Medieval Tile

12th-15th century
Nationality of Designer
Manufacturers Location
Red and white clay
13.6 x 13.8 x 1.7 cm
Purchase Price


Unused medieval encaustic tile in red and white clay with lead glaze featuring a rampant lion motif.


Bought from an antique shop in York by Adam Sutherland. 



Why it's in the Collection

As a very early example of English craft, this tile informs Grizedale Arts' perspective on ceramics and the Victorian period. Encaustic tiles were frequently used in the medieval period in religious contexts, famously in Westminster Abbey Chapter House. When these tiles were uncovered in the 1840s they contributed to a nationwide interest in this particular type of tile. The term 'encaustic' was, in fact, erroneously used to describe this technique of providing coloured effects by inlaying two different clays, usually using a mould, by Victorian restorers and imitators in the mid 19th century. It was so called due its apparent similarities to enamelling. Encaustic is now so widely used it is considered accurate, but the renaming of a medieval craft by the Victorians should be held in mind to illustrate both their influence in shaping modern perspectives on design and their relative ignorance of the dormant traditions they set about reviving. 

The Gothic Revival spearheaded by A.W.N Pugin and John Ruskin, and closely associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, praised medieval craft for its pre-industrial process, which supplied the maker with a dignified means of making a living and a source of fulfilment in their daily, hand-wrought work. In the field of ceramics, Minton & Co. played an important role in the restoration of first Temple Church and then Westminster itself. Imitation medieval tiles made by Minton in the signature red and white clay are now held in the collection of the British Museum. The Victorian tile typically improved on the medieval originals by making the edges of the design sharper and more distinct. This tile shows how indistinct a design usually resulted from the inlaid technique. The gap between actual historic (particularly medieval) artefacts and imitations produced by his contemporaries worried Ruskin who initiated the debate between conservation and restoration, taking the side of the conservationists and extending the debate into the fields of ecology, landscape, and folk craft. 

Bibliography & Further information

Tony Herbert and Kathryn Huggins, The Decorative Tile in Architecture and Interiors, London, Phaidon, 1995