ca. 1300-1400 (made)


Length: 14.2 cm, Width: 12.5 cm, Depth: 5.7 cm thickness

C.291-1938 MES

Decorated brick, made in Granada, Spain, about 1300-1400, tin-glazed earthenware

Description Brick from a grave, made from a coarse, red-bodied clay decorated on both sides and its top edge with a white slip and a transparent glaze over decoration in cobalt blue. On both sides there is an Arabic inscription which repeats the word 'al-'afiya', 'well-being', which is very appropriate to the funerary context. The inscription is enclosed by parallel lines of differing thickness, also painted in cobalt blue. On the top edge of the brick the blue decoration is in the form of blue zigzags. Matching bricks like this one would have been laid end to end to mark the perimeter of a grave in the cemetery at Malaga. At the corners of the grave two bricks would interlock: several examples survive of these end bricks with squares cut out of them to allow one to lock inside another. The headstone of the grave would have been a taller ceramic tile with a rounded top and two small ears, of the type which is known as 'estelas con orejas' (see comparative study). This type of grave marker seems to have been distinct to the Malaga cemetery which is where the vast majority of the comparative material has been found. All these bricks and stelae are also significant for being decorated in cobalt blue, which was only introduced to Andalusi ceramics in the 13th century. It is mostly used in small quantities in combination with lustre. Much research still needs to be done on the source of cobalt used to decorate these ceramics, but it was an expensive raw material. Even though the appearance of these bricks is quite crude, nevertheless some expense was spent on their production as many such bricks would have been needed to make one grave site. Technical Description The body clay is very red which is distinctive of pottery production in Malaga. The cross secti0n of the body indicates different colouration, however: it is reddish at the outer edges, and darker/greyer at the centre. This is probably to do with kiln temperature and firing conditions. The way the clay has been built up indicates it was pushed into a mould – the profile shows a curved line where perhaps another bit of clay has been added on top to fill it in. It is likely to have been made in a wooden box mould, to maintain a standard shape and size across all the bricks which make up the tomb surround. The brick has only been glazed in the upper half of its body, the part which would have protruded above the ground. This is probably to save expensive glazing material. The unglazed white covering in the lower half of the body seems to be a white slip. This would also indicate that the glaze is a transparent lead-alkaline glaze, rather than a tin-glaze. The may be to do with the fact that the decoration is in cobalt blue, which was not introduced to Andalusi ceramics until the 13th century, and may still have been used experimentally when this brick was made. Cobalt is notoriously difficult to control in the kiln and the Malaga potters may have found this treatment of slip plus transparent glaze worked better to control the decoration. The colour of the cobalt is rather green in tone, which is probably to do with the purification processes (cobalt tends to go black if there are firing problems). It may be that the potters are ‘cutting’ the expensive cobalt oxide, and analysis may indicate other minerals mixed in (perhaps some copper, which makes it greenish). There is also a turquoise-coloured spot in amongst the cobalt decoration (on the side of the brick without the object number). This presumably has dropped onto the brick from another object in the kiln. In the Museo de Malaga there are several headstones decorated in monochrome turquoise glazes, so perhaps headstones or matching bricks such as these were fired in the kiln at the same time as the V&A brick.

This object was given to the V&A by Mrs. Cadell in 1938. It was found in Málaga, outside the Gibralfaro. This find spot indicates that it came from the city's large cemetery which stretched between the outskirts of Málaga and the citadel of the Gibralfaro. According to correspondence from the donor in the V&A Archives: ‘The piece was found at Málaga about 50 yards outside the walls of the Gibralfaro, said to be a Moorish fortification, which towers over the city of Málaga from a hill on its outskirts. The piece was actually in the slight hollow surrounding a tree which had probably been planted two or three years ago. It was loose on the top of the ground, not…buried as one might expect it to have been had it been dug up when planting the tree’. (Letter from Mrs. Cadell to A. Van de Put Esq., 1938) Gift received for inspection, 15 December, 1938, ‘interesting fragment of Hispano-Moresque blue painted earthenware’. Letter of acceptance sent 23 December, 1938. Comparative Study Many similar bricks and headstones of the 'con orejas' type are in the Museo de Malaga. Their decoration is very consistent, with repeating inscriptions on the two sides and zigzag patterns along the tops. Sometimes the decoration features floral scrolls instead. In general they are decorated with cobalt blue only, though some are painted in manganese. Some examples are known in cuerda seca. The headstones are either plain (monochrome glazed in white or turquoise), or decorated with inscriptions or palmette motifs, also in cobalt blue. They also have zigzag patterns or floral scrolls on their outer edges. Their shapes and sizes are very standard, and they seem to have been made in moulds. There were probably specialised workshops producing these ceramics for graves. In general all the inscriptions on the bricks repeat the same phrase, 'al-'afiya', in a style of cursive writing that evolves according to all the styles known on ceramics during the 14th century. Around the mid 14th century, the phrase 'al-'izz al-da'im', 'perpetual glory', also appears. Very few of the headstones have more particular inscriptions, but one in the Museo de Malaga is dated 711 AH or 1367 AD. The Gibralfaro area, between the city centre of medieval Malaga and the hill-top citadel, was a major necropolis since the 11th century. The earliest headstones of the 'con orejas' type are known from the late 13th century. They are also known in Morocco from the 14th century, and this may be one of the various ceramic types that is introduced to al-Andalus with the Almohad conquest in the late 12th century. Exhibitions This funerary brick is on permanent display in the V&A's Ceramics Study Galleries (Gallery 137, 'Asia & Europe') in the first case of a chronological display of Spanish ceramics.

Given by Mrs Cadell

Location: Ceramics Study Galleries, Asia & Europe, room 137, case C1, shelf 4

View this object on the V&A website