One of the more famous 'landscape' Dutch tiles shows a man in a small boat sailing away from the viewer, up the Issel or some other river in the Netherlands. The rounded end of his boat lifts out of the water as the wind billows the sails and tilts the craft. The river surface is slighly rippling in the gentle breeze. In the distance lays a town, perhaps Deventer. When I look at this tile I feel transported to a place and time long ago.
The Dutch produced the greatest painters in the world, and many of their works hang in museums, or in private collections out of the reach of mere mortals. Sometimes something is so beautiful you want to own it, or at least possess it a short while. What to do? Buy a tile. Dutch tiles were frequently copied from paintings and like paintings they depict landscapes, interior domestic scenes, flowers (especially tulips), ships at sea and all sorts of wonderous things.
Hans van Lemmen has compiled a nice overview of the history of Dutch tilemaking. He says it was natural for a people who had been occupied by the Spanish for a long time to have become aware of the 'Hispano-Moresque' tradition of tile making. But many other factors conspired to make tile making the "signature form of decorative art" of the Dutch. For one thing, the little country has many river banks and lots of clay. For another, during the 16th Century, many Flemish tile artisans moved to the Netherlands to set up shop and enjoy the expanding Dutch economy. Another major factor was the incredible growth of a middle class that wanted to tiles for home use.
These uses included lining fire places, mantles, and the wall areas around them, as well as the areas where candles sat, in order to prevent house fires. The Dutch also lined their cellers to prevent water seeping into them. Areas exposed to much wear and tear, such as passageways, staircases, and doors were also covered with tiles. And, in a country where hygiene is a defining national characteristic tiles were important accessories in kitchens because they were easy to clean.
van Lemmen covers about 400 years of tilemaking, with most of his emphasis on the "Golden Age" of the 16th-17th centuries. The book contains a nice balance of history and photographs of tiles and 'in situ' settings of Dutch tiles in the Netherlands and other parts of the world. This is a book for relative beginners, but beautiful enough for anyone who loves Dutch art.