The most revered visual artists in Europe traditionally excelled at fresco, oil painting and sculpture. Not so in Portugal, where artists shone at making azulejos, glazed ceramic tiles that were fashioned into narrative scenes.Click to read the full article
In the 16th-18th centuries entire walls of grand palaces and richly endowed churches were covered with this work, some of it very large. A stupendous blue-and-white panorama of Lisbon, made not long before the destructive earthquake of 1755, measures almost 795 feet (242.3 metres) in length, and was even longer before elements from both ends were lost. What makes these creations so winning is their exuberance not skilful mastery of technique or sophisticated drawing. Though some are marked with splashes and smudges of glaze, all have an endearing freshness and even joy.
The golden age of azulejo art came during Portugal’s colonial expansion. China, Brazil, Goa and the East Indies created enormous wealth for Portugal. The rich wanted to advertise their status and had the means to do so. New palaces, churches, convents and monasteries were built and tile scenes were commissioned to decorate them inside and out.
You can also visit the Portuguese Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo), there's a lot of information on this traditional art.