Mosaics were an assemblage of pieces of polished marble, and zellige was made of earthenware tiles in colored fragments. The tessellations in the mosaics are currently of interest in academic research in the mathematics of art. The aesthetic has become fashionable among Western interior designs. Example of zellige work. The anvil varies in size but provides a backing to hammer and chip against. This ornemantal technique is typical of Maghrebi architecture:
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The technique was highly developed during the Nasrid dynastyMerinid dynasty and zayyanid dynasty who gave it more importance around the 14th century and introduced blue, green and yellow colours. The beautiful Zellige of Morroco it means “tile” in Arabic made their appearance around the 10 th century. Meriam El Ouahabi states that:. In smaller workshop, experience has taught the masters how to stack their kilns to take advantage of the variations in temperature throughout the kiln, so they can fire different colours together.
Today, this technique is popular all over the world and has gained attention in contemporary architecture. Nejjarine Fountain in Fes, Morocco, zillij from the 17 th c. Strong young apprenctices are a great help in getting the clay ready!
The basic colors of black, white, and brown represented the spirit. Red stood for dry and hot fire, blue for the dry and cold earth, yellow for hot and moist air, and green for cold and moist water.
The 20 th century saw new colours being introduced as glazes were imported and added to the traditional colours. Glazing the Tiles In order to seal the Zellige so that it will resist water, and sport the lovely colours traditionally used in Morocco, the tiles are glazed. The process of making zellige is complicated and requires a large working force that has to be experienced, patient, and precise in order to follow the foundation of rules that is transmitted through the generations.
The process has not varied for a millennium, though conception and design has started using new technologies such as data processing. Wealthy men used zellige to decorate their homes as a statement of luxury and the sophistication of the inhabitants.
Cement tiles and zellige
Detail of zellige in the Alhambra Palace of Granada, Spain, 14 th c. These studies require expertise not only in the fields of mathematics, art and art historybut also of computer sciencecomputer modelling zellig software engineering all used for the Hassan II Mosque. Modern glaze mixtures are not as toxic as some of the old formulas which often contained lead. Within a single star pattern, variations abound—by the mix of colors, the size of the furmah, and the complexity and size of interspacing elements such as strapping, braids, or “lanterns.
Moroccan Tiles Zellige from Fez
Red was added in the 17th century. Example of zellige work.
It is the largest mosque in Morocco and a showcase of typical traditional art. Shaping the Tiles Unlike European tiles that get shaped and glazed, and oribin then used as is, Moroccan Zellige gets shaped after the glazing. The adoption of modern glaze preparation made the life of the tile maker easier and expanded the colours available.
History Art of zellij is born in Morocco to the tenth century, in white and brown tones, in imitation of Roman mosaics. When assembly is completed, all the tesserae are fixed by a mortar in which are sealed iron rods to ensure the solidity.
There are simple squares of 10 by 10 centimeters or with the corners zellig to be combined with a coloured cabochon.
Cement tiles and zellige – Materiae
The bottom of the tile is not glazed and the sides are only partially covered. Interestingly, the colors blue, yellow, green, and red were only added in the 17 th century. The zllige starts, as all traditional ceramics, by extracting clay from either underground mines or open pits. Its original meaning was “little polished stone” and their purpose was probably to imitate Greco-Roman mosaics, not by assembling pieces of polished marble, coming from distant sources, but rather using fragments of colored earthenware tiles.