Above all, the extraordinary thing about Delft/Dutch tiles is that every single faience is a small complete work of art in itself. Handpainted by artists, each tile is - although mass produced - different. Moreover, the great variety of themes and motifs used by the painters to decorate tiles emphasizes this uniqueness.

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<flower pots or vases>  <flowers>  <fruit dishes and fruits>  <still life designs>  <landscapes>  <biblical scenes>  <ships>  <fish and other animals of the sea>  <children's games>   <angels>  <soldiers>  <horsemen>  <everyday situations or professional occupations>  <shepherds>  <Chinese motifs>  <animals>  <birds>  <insects>  <sea creatures or sea monsters>  <mythological scenes>  <ornamental designs>  <cartouche and inanimate designs>  <pillars and festoons>  <borders, plinths or friezes>

Especially „flower pots or vases“ ("bloempotten"), namely with the characteristic triple bloom, have often been used to decorate tiles since 1570.  

The earliest flower pots or vases (1570 - 1630) were multicoloured (polychrome); from 1620 on they were mostly painted in blue (the "Delft blue") and later (18th and 19th century) also in purple (Fig.: flower pot in a large threefold circle; purple; corner motif: modified fretwork; Utrecht or Harlingen since 1800; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,7 cm).

The motifs of the early 17th century were usually painted in a two-coloured diamond-shaped Moorish square. After 1620 they were surrounded either by a baluster or an accolade. From 1630 on you also find sometimes the jagged diamond. The typical corner motifs of the early period were the quarter rosette and the Moorish patterns, both painted in the reserve technique; the French lily (after 1610); the (large) ox-head, and the fretwork patterns (both after 1620). On tiles manufactured in the late 18th and in the 19th century the central motifs were mostly painted in three rings with modified fretwork corner motifs (see fig. above).

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Just as typical are flowers, which appeared about 1620. Illustrations in plant, herb and flower books, which reflected an increasing interest in nature at that time, served as models for the tile painters.

This is the reason, that flowers, e.g the crown imperial, the narcissus or all kind of tulips, are painted in a very naturalistic way (Fig.: flower; polychrome; corner motif: polychrome lily; probably Gouda, 1620 - 1640; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,2 cm). During the 18th and 19th century, however, stylized flowers were predominant, especially the well known so called Frisian or strewed flower. 

Fruits belong to the early motifs, too, already painted since 1580, and furthermore fruit dishes, in which the painting started in 1600. From the mid-17th centuy on fruits, and also flowers or other objekts, were now and then part of a still life.

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Landscapes are a second typical design.

The production of tiles with landscape motifs increased during the 2nd half of the 17th century. Earlier landscape tiles, however, which were painted begining in 1590, are rare. These tiles are often polychrome. After 1650 most landscape tile were painted in blue; from the 18th century to the late 19th century purple ("manganese") was also quite popular.

Many of these tiles are decorated with rivers or channels; you often see several sailing ships in the background (Fig.: windmill in a small double circle; blue; corner motif: spider; Makkum, 1860 - 1900; 12,8 x 12,8 x 0,7 cm; for more examples from the 18th c. see the links "Fascination" and "Corner motifs"). Castles or farmsteads, houses or huts, wells, bridges, dovecots, swans, trees and, of course, windmills are usually shown in the centre.

While the early motifs typically are painted inside an Italian circle band or the Moorish square, each with corner motifs in reserve technique (e.g. quarter rosette or palmette), later in baluster and accolade borders (starting in 1620), the central motifs from the mid-17th to the early 18th century are quite small, with no circles and sometimes even without corner motifs. 

The well-known motifs of the 18th century are mostly surrounded by large double circles and octagons, and in the 19th century usually by smaller double circles. Typical corner motifs are now the ox-head, the spider or the carnation, but also the quarter rosette, especially if the motif is painted in an octagon border (Fig.: riverside with farmer ferrying his livestock across the river, surrounded by an octagon; blue and purple; corner motif: carnation; Rotterdam, 1740 - 1780; 12,8 x 12,8 x 0,8 cm).


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Biblical tiles are the third type of tiles which were very popular. Believe it or not, starting in 1640 (polychrome tiles from the early 17th century are, however, quite rare) more or less 600 different scenes from the Old and New Testaments were painted on tiles (Fig.: "The circumcision of Jesus", Luke II.21.; blue; corner motif: spider; Utrecht approx. 1720; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,7 cm).

Production took place, starting in the late 17th century, in the well-known factories in Haarlem, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Harlingen, Makkum and Bolsward, which reached its height in the 18th century. Tiles with biblical scenes were used predominately on tiled stoves and fireplaces. Particularly these tiles were very popular in the 18th century among the wealthy rural population. 

The production of biblical tiles almost stopped in the 19th century. Only in Utrecht, Makkum and Harlingen did they continue to be manufactured (and are still made today). 

The typical biblical tile is painted in blue, and from the mid-17th century on also in purple. In the 17th century the central motif is often surrounded by a large double circle; corner motifs are the ox-head and the spider. Illustrations without a circle, most of which were produced between the 2dn half of the 17th century and the mid-18th century, nearly always have the spider as a corner motif (see fig. above). 

In the 18th century most of the blue and purple painted biblical scenes are again surrounded by a large double circle, with ox-heads as corner motifs.

In the first quarter of the 18th century you find for the first time the biblical reference for the scene, written below the central motif (Fig.: "The three wise men out of the East are directed to Christ by a star", Matthew II.9.,10.; in large double circle; purple; corner motif: ox-head; Rotterdam approx. 1770; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,7 cm).

The tiles of this period with carnation corner motifs, which are particularly finely painted, are remarkable. 

Starting from the mid-18th century the central motifs were painted in octagonal borders with quarter rosettes, feathers and modified leaves as corner motifs. From the end of the 18th century on, the scenes were again painted in a square, now often with borders of striped leaves. In the 19th century the large double-circle border around the central motif and the ox-head corner motif were prevalent. Now most of the tiles included a biblical reference. 

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But that's not all: The painters used an abundance of further themes, showing everyday life, as well as land and sea creatures, usually inspired by well-known paintings, wood and copper engravings, and etchings.

Maritime motifs like ships, fish and other sea animals were very common. For a seafaring nation with great merchant, warship and fishing fleets, this seems natural (Fig.: fishing trawler; purple; corner motif: spider; Delft or Rotterdam, 18th c.; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,8 cm). 

You can already find illustrations of ships towards the end of the 16th century in which the central motif is frequently surrounded by typical borders of that period (1570 - 1600: the Italian circle band and the Moorish diamond; 1620 - 1650: the accolade). These early rare illustrations are polychrome. Subsequently, up to the mid-18th century, the tiles have no borders around the central motif and are now painted in blue. Later they were also painted in purple. Typical are the corner motifs of the ox-head and spider. Starting from the late 18th century, the blue- or purple-coloured ships are mostly painted in a double circle; the spider as corner motif prevailed. In all of these periods, all kinds of contemporary sailing ships (war and cargo ships), but also fishing boats and the smallest punts, were illustrated.  

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Polychrome as well as blue illustrations of fish were already manufactured in the frist half of the 17th century. However, most  fish tiles date from the 2nd half of the 17th century to the 1st half of the 18th century (Fig.: dolphin; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 18th c.; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,8 cm)

These tiles have no border around the central motif, are painted in blue and the ox-head or the spider are used as corner motifs.

The fish swim partly gracefully and partly terrifyingly on waves that are represented schematicly. Other sea animals were painted in the same way, especially crabs, snails, frogs, seals and crocodiles (Fig.: walrus; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 2nd half 17th c.; 12,7 x 12,7 x 1,1 cm; rare).

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Along with the other motifs, tile painters liked to picture children at play. This is understandable because such illustrations have a long tradition in the Netherlands. Tiles showing children playing games were produced especially in the 17th and 18th, but also in the 19th century. Most picture one or two children, usually painted in blue. 

Tiles depicting children's games are rare in the first half of the 17th century (starting from 1620 on). These early tiles have baluster or accolade borders. Corner motifs are the lily, the (large) ox-head, the volute and the fretwork. However, popular motifs between the 2nd half of the 17th century and the 1st half of the 18th century have no border, and the spider and the (smaller) ox-head as corner motifs, or no corner decoration (Fig. above: children in fancy dress on Pancake Day; 12,4 x 12,4 x 1,0 cm; below: children making music with drum and flute; 12,5 x 12,5 x 0,9 cm; both blue; corner motif: spider; 1660 - 1700). 

Frequently illustrated are: skipping, playing with a ball, badminton, playing marbles, swinging, kite flying, slingshots, hobby-horses, paper windmills as well as golf, boxing and swimming. Altogether more than 90 different games can be distinguished.

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As charming as children's game tiles are motifs with putti and angels, most of which date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Typical are single figures in the centre of the tile. They resamble Baroque angles.  

They are shown in various poses, holding equipment such as bow and arrow, or torches, but also toys, musical instruments, and many other things (Fig.: seated angel with goblet; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 1660 - 1700; 12,9 x 12,9 x 1,0 cm). 

The typical angel tile is painted in blue. Starting from the 2nd half of the 17th century they are decorated with spider or ox-head corner motifs; frequently they have no corner decoration. Less commonly, they are polychrome and sometimes have an ornamental background.

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An outstanding group of tiles are those with soldiers, which were surely inspired by the long war of independence against Spain. The polychrome tiles from 1590 to 1625 and the early blue motifs of the 17th century (1620 - 1700) are especially beautiful.  

Most soldier motifs from this period were copied from the engravings of Jacob de Gheyn, who at the end of the 16th century was asked by Earl Johann VII of Nassau-Siegen to write a drill book for soldiers ("Wapenhandelinghe", 1607). Therefore you find impressive and excellently painted illustrations of warriors, especially musketeers and pikemen, on early tiles (Fig.: musketeer with morion, in his hands a gun ready to fire, at the hip a rapier; blue; corner motif: lily; possibly Delft, 1625 - 1660; 13,3 x 13,3 x 1,2 cm).   

Soldier tiles of the 18th and 19th centuries, however, were more simply painted.

The early polychrome motifs (up to 1625) are surrounded by the Italian circle band or a triple circle, then the corners are decorated with the quarter rosette in reserve, or the Moorish diamond, then a Moorish palmette (also called "cogwheel") fills the corners. 

Starting from approximately 1620 until 1650 blue tiles have often baluster or accolade borders. Prevaling corner motifs are the French lily, the leaf and the ox-head. As a rule, later tiles with soldier motifs have no borders, but the lily and the ox-head corner motifs continued to be used. 

During all periods in which soldier tiles were produced, they were pictured with sabres, rifles, pikes or spears, but also with flags and musical instruments. 

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Of course, horsemen must also be mentioned (Fig.: horseman on a rearing horse wearing a hat; blue; corner motif: ox-head; probably Middelburg, 2nd half of the 17th c.; 12,8 x 12,8 x 1,1 cm). Exceptionally beautiful tiles were painted from 1700 to 1750 in blue or purple. They are known as "large rider". Similarly painted tiles are again found in the late 19th century.

Horsemen are depicted on galloping, jumping, rearing or even falling horses with guns, pistols, sabres, trumpets, flags and other types of equipment. 

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Pictures of everyday situations or professional occupations were also very popular. Early polychrome tiles, which have mostly Moorish corner motifs, date from 1600 to 1630 and are extremely rare.  

Starting in 1620, such motifs were typically painted in blue. The ox-head in its original and modified forms is as a corner motif predominantly used as are the leaf, lily, volute and fretwork (fig.: lawyer in his robe with a rolled document; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 1660 - 1680, 12,7 x 12,7 x 0,9 cm).

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All kinds of salesmen and saleswomen, craftsmen of different guilds, fishermen, farmers, hunters and, above all, shepherds were frequently illustrated, but also clergymen or monks and lawyers (Fig.: shepherdess in landscape with two sheep in the background; blue; corner motif: spider; perhaps Friesland, 18th c.; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,8 cm).

You also find musicians, artists, acrobats, clowns, beggars and, of course, just men and women in their contemporary dress.

Briefly: scenes from everyday situations were painted as well as the hustle and bustle in the streets and pubs, including people smoking, drinking and dancing (Fig.: drinking man; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 1640 - 1670; 12,6 x 12,6 x 1,1 cm).

Dutch tile painters didn't even shrink from illustrating urinating, vomiting and finally defecating men.

Such motifs were common in those days and can also be found in Rembrandt's etchings from the 1st half of the 17th century. They were meant to warn the middle class about immorality, also so-called pictures of "merry gathering" (Fig.: vomiting drunken man held up by his wife; corner motif: spider; 1660 - 1690; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,0 cm; rare). 

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Chinese motifs, in particular, must be mentioned. Namely the designs of Chinese porcelain, imported during the first half of the 17th century, influenced illustration and colour of Dutch tiles from then on.  

That influence reflects in the arrangement of the corner motifs, above all the fretwork according to "meander"-patterns, as well as the illustrations of birds, insects and flowers, so-called Chinese garden (see fig.: Chinese garden in double circle with "aigrette" = plume; blue; corner motif: three dot; probably Rotterdam or Haarlem, 1620 - 1650; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,1 cm), 

or finally Chinese sceneries of the daily life or persons in traditional dress and pose. 

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Images of all kinds of animals (look for more early produced animal tiles the link "Introduction": archway-tile with a fox, the polychrome motif in Moorish diamond decorated with a hare and the deer in accolade border and fretwork corner motif; the link "Production Process": goat in jagged diamond; the links "Corner motifs": "Rotterdamse kroontegel" and the link "Determination of Age": both with a fox as central motif) were especially popular. 

From 1570 to the first quarter of the 17th century they are polychrome. The central motif is either painted in a square (the Moorish diamond) with the palmette or "cogwheel" corner motif or in a wide circle (Italian circle band) with the quarter rosette as corner motif (Fig.: deer in a diamond with palmette corner motif in reserve; polychrome; 1580 - 1625, approx. 1610; 13,2 x 13,2 x 1,5 cm).

Starting in 1620 the tiles are mainly painted in blue; baluster and accolade borders are typical. Corner motifs vary between fretwork, lily, ox-head and leaf.  

Animal tiles feature not only exotic or zoo animals, for instance elephants, lions, panthers, bears, camels and monkeys (Fig.: big cat in scalloped border; blue; corner motif: fretwork; Rotterdam, 1620 - 1660; 13,4 x 13,4 x 1,5 cm), or animals of the forest, such as squirrels, and above all, hunted animals, such as deer, foxes, hares and wild pigs, 

but also domestic animals, such as cows, goats, pigs, sheep, horses and cats and dogs, and furthermore fabled animals, especially unicorns. Altogether these motifs are called "springertjes".

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Various kinds of birds are illustrated too, namely parrots, peacocks, owls, raptors and song-birds, up to flightless birds, such as ostriches, 

and of course swans, dugs, goose as well as roosters and hens (Fig.: eagle; blue; corner motif: bloom; 1635 - 1660; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,2 cm; under the link "Corner motif" find a picture of a bird on a tile dated 1590 - 1625: magpie in Italian circle band; polychrome; corner motif: quarter rosette painted in reserve technique).  

Finally you find pictures of insects, mostly butterfly, grasshopper and dragonfly, 

and now and then also caterpillars, namely often on flowers or plants (Fig.: butterfly flying over a flower; in a wide circle; polychrome; corner motif: fretwork; Harlingen, 1630 - 1650; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,2 cm; rare).

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As pattern were used the illustrations in zoological books of the 16th and 17th century (e.g. the "Animalium quadrupedum", c. 1612, with illustrations of Adrian Collaert and the "Historia naturalis", c. 1650, with copper engravings of Matthäus Merian) or wood engravings of Albrecht Dürer and etchings of Nicolas Berchem. 

In contrast to the illustrations until 1660, the animals painted in the 2nd half of the 17th century are smaller, respectively very small, the colour is still blue. As corner motifs are used the ox-head (in its smaller type) and the spider, partly the tiles doesn't have any corner decoration. 

Since the beginning of the 18th century to the 19th century the animal tiles are painted mostly in a large threefold circle. Predominante is now the spider corner motif (Fig.: hare in a threefold circle; blue; corner motif: spider; approx. 1850; 12,8 x 12,8 x 0,8 cm). 

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Beneath more or less realistic themes phantastic motifs were popular, too. Illustrations on waves riding sea creatures, half human beings half fish, as well as sea monsters, half fish half mammal or even half dragon reflected stories of well travelled sailors during the 17th and 18th century. Partly the paintings also had a mythological background:

Typical therefore were for example illustrations of Poseidon (Neptun), the god of the sea, with his trident, or of his son Triton with the shell-horn on his lips, of Amor with bow and arrow, as well as of Venus on a shell (Fig.: Neptun; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 1660 - 1700; 12,5 x 12,5 x 1,0 cm). 

Motifs between 1600 and 1625 were polychrome and did cover nearly the total tile. Patterns were again for instance etchings of Jacob de Gheyn. 

The illustrations from 1640 on, whereby you can find pictures of sea creatures and sea monsters mostly in the 2nd half of the 17th century and still in a similar way painted from 1780 untill 1830, were usually blue and had spider or ox-head corner motifs (Fig.: dragon; blue; corner motif: ox-head; 1660 - 1680; 12,6 x 12,6 x 0,9 cm).

They swim (comparable to ship- and fish-illustrations from the same periode) on stylized waves, which look sometimes like a carpet. 

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Scenes of the Greek or Roman mythology belong to the same category of phantastic illustrations. Mythological tiles were produced mainly in the 17th century, whereby for the early polychrome exemplars the etchings of Jan Muller were copied. However, the form of the central motif and the chosen corner motifs look similar to those of sea creatures.

Not only well known scenes from the myth were painted, e.g. godfather Zeus in the  shape of a bull carrying Europa across the Bosporus, but also scenes from the Greek epic of the heroes (Fig.: Daedalus; blue; corner motif: spider; 1640 - 1680; 12,9 x 12,9 x 1,0 cm).

Furthermore were illustrated mermaids, nymphs and satyrs. 

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The earlist Dutch tile motifs are ornamental designs, which were painted already in the late 16th century (starting from 1570) and the early 17th centrury. In that period they were polychrome (see three further examples of very early  ornament tiles under the links "Introdction", "Corner motifs" and "Determination of Age"). The patterns followed the Spanish/Moorish tradition of the 16th century and showed the typical Antwerp ornament-motifs. 

Although from 1600 on the decoration with objects and figures came to the for, in the 17th, 18th and 19th century tiles with ornamental patterns in various kinds can be found too.

They often adopted the decorative elements of the actual epoch (Baroque, Louis XIV style, Rokoko/Louis XV style, Empire/Neo-classicism) and were painted - starting from mid-17th century - mostly in blue or purple (Fig.: ornamental tile; purple; 1770 - 1930, whereby this sample was produced approx. at the end of the 18th c.; 13,1 x 13,1 x 0,7 cm).  

The specimens of the 19th century sometimes look like wallpaper designs. The reason was probably the increasing demand for painted wallpaper to decorate rooms, to which tiles more and more did compete with. 

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Ornament tiles should not mixed up with cartouche designs, whose paterns look quite similar, and inanimate designs, showing objects unattended by other items. 

Such motifs appeared predominant during the 18th and 19th century. The painting was mostly kept in purple. (Fig.: vase on cartouche with portrait of a man and two amoretti each holding a flag; purple; corner motif: quarter rosette; Rotterdam, 1720 - 1770; 12,9 x 12,9 x 0,7 cm, rare).

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A special form of illustration developed strengthened in the 18th and 19th century. Those are so-called tile pictures, which show a figurative composition by itself covering more than one tile. Illustrated were horses, cows, cats and dogs, which were used very often for fire-places and wall decorations in farmhouses and which consisted mostly of four or six tiles.  

Very popular were also maritime tile pictures (showing single or a couple of ships as well as naval battles), which were partly painted over five to five or five to six tiles. Frequently those "tableaus" decorated the houses of sailors. 

Really every kind of motif can be found: biblical scenes (Fig.: Joseph flees into Egypt, with Jesus and his mother Mary, Matthew II.14.; purple; Utrecht, 2nd half 19th c.; composed from 12 tiles, each tile 12,8 x 12,8 x 1,0 cm) and mythological topics, landscapes with buildings as well as war-scenes or pictures from farmer's life, eyeryday situations with illustrations of single persons or groups, e.g. craftsmen and children. 

In addition to that I can mention birdcages with different birds, especially with the yellow canary (look for such a tile picture from the 2nd half of the 19th c. under "Introduction"), flower-arrangements, Chinese decors and furthermore large ornaments. Especially famous are finally portraits of riders, which showed mostly members of the Dutch Royal Family.

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Pillars and festoons also fall under the category of tile pictures. They were produced predominantly in the 18th and 19th century, painted in blue or purple. 

Pillars are tile pictures formed by 13, sometimes by 12 tiles, layed in a vertical row. Now and then pillars are two tiles wide, so-called double pillar. The tiles show flower or leaf tendrils, decorated with birds or putti, why such tile pictures also are named tendril.  

Tile pillars were primarily fixed on either sides of fireplaces. Sometimes they were used as pilasters to decorate each side of a doorway, which applies especially for North Germany (Fig.: part of a tendril: grapevine with putto and bunch of grapes; blue; perhaps Makkum; 1700 - 1780; each tile 12,9 x 12,9 x 0,9 cm; rare).

Festoons, i.e. flower garlands, partly decorated with fruits, birds or other animals, and often having a bow at the top, are similar to pillars. 

They are formed by 4, 6 or 12 vertical placed tiles, and were mainly used as a visual partition between two larger fields of tiles. 

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Final it should be mention too that in every period special tiles were burned, which have been used round tiled walls or tile pictures as borders, plinths or friezes. The patern does mostly correspond to the paintings, ornamental decors and even the motifs of the hereby framed tiles. This causes the great variety of "border tiles". 

You find not only border tiles which design is covering a singel tile creating an alternating patern by placing the tiles alongside one another, but also tiles which have a design across two or more tiles, creating an ongoing picture (predominant for frieze tiles). 

The early border tiles (1570 - 1650) are according to the early tiles motifs polychrome (Fig.: two border tiles with marigolds and winged leafs; polychrome; 1610 - 1640; 6,8 x 13,8 x 1,6 cm).

The later samples (since 1620) are as expected blue and since the 18th century also purple. Afterwards they are now and than again polychrome. The typical size of border tiles is 6,5 x 13 cm (so called halves; "halfjes"). Plinth or frieze tiles (the first were used as base of tiled walls and the second to complete their top edge) are matching with 13 x 13 cm to the typical size of "motif tiles". Also square are the half-sized border-corner tiles (6,5 x 6,5 cm) to form crosswise a complete border design.

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In other words: Before the collectors eyes spreads out a never endig choise of paterns and themes, in which the pictured scenes are giving an impression of the Good Old Days.