“Talavera” is a name often associated with handmade glazed tiles of Mexico. Much has been written about the history of Talavera tile, which will be briefly covered in this article. Sadly, the practical and aesthetic considerations that go into the selection and use of this exuberantly beautiful tile are seldom presented in an easily understood and useful manner. This article is an attempt to rectify this situation.

The name “Talavera” comes from the Spanish town, Talavera de la Reina. It is reported that artisans from this town traveled to Mexico in the 2nd half of the 16th century during Spain’s colonization of the Americas. Their initial destination was Puebla, the city now most closely associated with Talavera tile and ceramics. The unique skills that these craftsmen brought with them, however, can be traced to influences Italy, North Africa, Asia and Northern Europe.

As commerce and travel increasingly interconnected different parts of Mexico during this colonial period, the products of these Spanish ceramicists from Talavera became both well known and desired throughout many parts of Latin America. It was during this period that the name “Talavera” became synonymous with the unique tile and ceramic designs flowing from the hands of these skilled craftsmen.

The Spaniards directing the work in their studios in Puebla brought indigenous people into their shops as laborers. With time, this brought about a blending of Spanish sensitivities with native aesthetics to give birth to a wide variety of tile motifs as well as a growing group of potters with ethnicities as varied as the designs they were producing. This led to a deterioration in both traditional design purity and consistent tile quality. The Spanish Viceroy responded to the growing outcry from the Spanish potters in Puebla by issuing the Decree of 1653, which strictly controlled many aspects of the ceramics trade in Mexico. These new regulations created an exact classification system for three levels of pottery, precise clay mixture formulas, specific glazing colors and design criteria for the use of these glazes, and limited the practitioners of this trade to being only pure Spanish. In 1682 an addendum was enacted to extend this control. Two of the results of these decrees were a noticeable increase in tile quality and a tightening of the range of design patterns of Talavera tile.

Eventually, forces of history, such as the stirrings of independence from Spain and increased importation of inexpensive ceramics from China, created excessive price competition to Puebla’s Talavera tile trade, leading to a sharp decrease in both demand and manufacture of this pottery.

The decline continued until a resurgence of interest emerged approximately 25 years ago. It is reported that a specific event that was part of this renewed interest was a chance discovery of an old box of Talavera tile by a person who was inspired, by this discovery, to start their own tile importing company. 25 years later, their name is now synonymous with high quality tile of many types including Talavera tile, which is now manufactured by a number of studios in Mexico. Talavera tile is now readily available through reliable importers, much to the delight of all of us in the design community who appreciate the beauty of this unique, historic artistic expression in ceramics.