REPORTS: Main achievements | 2014-2017

Annual reports
2014  |  2015  |  2016  |  2017  

Az – Azulejo Research Network (formerly the João Miguel dos Santos Simões Thematic Network for the Study of Azulejos and Ceramics) is a research group at ARTIS – Institute of Art History (School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon), active since 2009.

In the beginning, Az sought to consolidate itself through the creation of a human structure, both institutional and methodological, that would allow it to grow in subsequent years. Until 2013, it benefited from ongoing research grants (since 2009) and was able, through FCT's annual funding calls, to transform two Research Scholarships (BI) into PhD Studentships (BD) and a Science and Technology Management Scholarship (BGCT) into a Post-Doctoral Fellowship (BPD) focused on specific subjects concerning Portuguese tiles. This strategy was crucial to gaining critical mass. At the same time, the group signed several cooperation protocols with institutions entrusted with tile heritage, companies and other research units (see Partners).

With time, Az’s network structure went on to include researchers from other research units and other areas of knowledge, in Portugal and abroad. The translation of the Iconclass – a multilingual classification system for cultural content (2012-2014), currently sponsored by the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History) and made available on Az Infinitum – was an important vehicle for the group’s internationalization. In addition, the PrintArt project (PTDC/EEA-CRO/098822/2008; 2010-2013) enabled the participation in important conferences (in Vienna (2012), Florence (2012) and Rome (2014)), among which the European Conference on Computer Vision (ECCV), which hosted its first workshop – VISART – in 2012, and later in 2014 and 2016, attesting to the importance of the project even after it came to an end.

Az Infinitum as the group’s anchor project

In 2012, the group launched what was to become its anchor project, Az Infinitum – Azulejo Indexation and Referencing System, developed in partnership with the National Azulejo Museum and the company Sistemas do Futuro. Az Infinitum is a research-oriented scholarly tool focused on the azulejos produced and/or applied in Portugal. It is available in free access through an online platform that was born out of the combination of several interrelated databases. This platform allows users to cross data about the locations where azulejos were applied, decorative motifs (either the iconography or patterns), authorship, chronology, sources of inspiration, old photos, materials, techniques, documentation associated with each example, and so on.

The system also crosses textual and visual data, allowing for the processing and systematization of an enormous amount of information, promoting its analysis and fostering the emergence of new questions that, with the collaboration of the scientific community, will enable a renewed perspective on the history of Portuguese tiles. For now, Az Infinitum is divided into five main areas: In situ, Authors, Patterns, Iconography and Bibliography. However, there are several others in preparation: old photographs, prints and a thesaurus.

Since Az Infinitum is the meeting point of several institutional and academic collaborations, many of Az’s projects will likely resort to this platform. In this context, it is worth mentioning the project Cataloguing Portuguese Tile Patterns, active since 2010. Although some scholarships specifically dedicated to this project have now ended, the work has continued, albeit at a slower pace. The protocols and partnership agreements with other institutions led to inventories in places as different as downtown Lisbon, Ovar municipality, Porto region, the city of Braga and Caldas da Rainha Hospital, among others. MA and PhD dissertations enabled the development of inventories and the study of azulejos in the cities of Barreiro and Caldas da Rainha, from the Baroque period to the present day. Likewise, Az was able to secure a post-doctoral research project dedicated to the study of Baroque frames, with a methodology based on Az Infinitum. The project provided new insights into Pombaline tiles, 19th century and early 20th century façade tiles and especially Baroque frames, which were presented at international scientific meetings and published in conference proceedings.

More recently, the technological developments introduced by Az Infinitum have helped strengthen its vocation as a powerful digital tool, in line with the current international focus on Digital Art History (DAH). Az researchers were active participants in the ongoing international debate about DAH and presented papers at Digital Art History and Artistic Culture. IV International Meeting (Malaga, December 2016);  International hackathon Coding Dürer (Munich, March 13-17, 2017); and Digital Art History: Practice and Potential, organized by the Courtauld Institute of Art and held at the Paul Mellon Centre (October 11, 2017).

Other relevant projects

The development of a module on old photographs enabled the digitization of the National Azulejo Museum’s slide collection, as well as the photographs of the antiquarian Manuel Leitão (2014), which are uniquely relevant for the study of provenances. This project was launched in 2014 and has led to different publications. 

The upload of prints to Az Infinitum and their connection to the tile coverings they inspired are crucial to promoting new studies on visual culture and the construction of images. However, there is a lot of work to be done with regard to the identification of these sources and their inclusion in Az Infinitum. Finally, it is worth mentioning the Az.Thesaurus project, partially supported by private funds, and of which only the sections devoted to materials and techniques have been completed. The definitions of commonly used terms were also expanded thanks to AzLab#33, focused on who does what in tile production. It is essential to continue this project, but it is also necessary to find other interlocutors in various areas.

Scientific output

As regards the group’s scientific output, the participation in several national and international conferences and the books and articles published in peer-reviewed journals deserve a special mention. All the indicators listed in the annual reports testify to the integration of azulejo studies in wider contexts, and hence to the field’s growing internationalization. Those indicators are even more promising if we consider the difficulties in being accepted at conferences abroad due to the specificity of this research topic.

Among the group’s many publications, it is worth highlighting the article published in the proceedings of the Framings conference, on Baroque frames (2015); the edition of the AzLab#14 Azulejos & Frames proceedings (2016); and the participation in the book "The Most Noble of the Senses": Anamorphosis, Trompe-L'Oeil, and Other Optical Illusions in Early Modern Art, edited by North American Zephyrus Scholarly Publications LLC, with a chapter on the issue of illusion in Baroque azulejos (2016). However, the publications of the group's researchers are not limited to modernity. They also extend to contemporary artists, such as Hein Semke, studied by Patrícia Nóbrega, among others.

Since 2015, the group has been working closely with the publisher Centro Atlântico. This partnership resulted in five edited books and a collaboration on a sixth one. Rosário Salema de Carvalho’s (texts) and Libório Manuel Silva’s (photographs) Azulejo em / in Braga – O Largo Tempo do Barroco / The Baroque Period (2016) (with two different editions) also deserves a special mention. This work presents novel research based on archival documents (retrieved with the aid of another researcher, Eduardo Pires de Oliveira) and the analysis of tile coverings from the city of Braga, and its conclusions have contributed to a more sustained knowledge of Portugal’s Baroque tile production. Furthermore, the books also stands out for its magnificent photographs, which are unparalleled in the current editorial context.

The work Azulejos. Maravilhas de Portugal / Wonders of Portugal (2017), in turn, brought together the 40 most important azulejo coverings in the country, as well as almost all the group’s integrated researchers and collaborators. Benefiting from the images of one of today’s most important heritage photographers, Libório Manuel Silva, this book reveals the most updated research perspectives on Portuguese azulejos. The same model was then followed in another book, Azulejos à Mesa / in Restaurants (2017) (bilingual edition). Although of a more informative nature, this work is just as accurate and scientifically relevant as the previous ones.
The importance and recognition of the Az researchers can also be measured by the invitations to join academic juries and scientific committees of conferences and journals, namely the GlazeArch conference, in 2015.

Support for applications

In an effort to attract more researchers, the group has supported applications for projects and individual scholarships. The last proposal, submitted to the 2017 Call for SR&TD Project Grants, is still under evaluation. Although it has not yet been possible to obtain funding from competitive calls, we have received private funding (the Az.Thesaurus project, for example ,was funded by the Joana Vasconcelos Foundation), as well as travel funding and two PhD scholarships (2014 and 2017).

Scientific outreach

All the results summarized above, and fully detailed in the annual reports, have been achieved while continuing to value a close connection with society. Accordingly, the group organized regional and local conferences to promote and raise awareness to Portugal’s tile heritage. It also participated in specific projects on the preservation of tile decorations, such as SOS Azulejo, promoted by the Judiciary Police Museum.

As regards the group’s scientific outreach, it is worth mentioning the various pages in different social networks, updated every day with educational and informative content related to the history of azulejos, available in Portuguese and in English (see Facebook: @az.redeazulejo and @AzInfinitum; Instagram: @rede_azulejo). To these we can add the profile page on Pinterest.

Finally, the AzLab seminar series must also be mentioned. Organized in cooperation with the National Azulejo Museum, and supported by its own blog, AzLab has taken place every month since January 2014, always on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m., at the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon (except for the months of July, August and September). By December 2017, we had already held 35 AzLab sessions, with different guests and topics related to azulejos. Aimed at stimulating the debate in this field, AzLab has also promoted special international editions (AzLab#14 and AzLab#33), complete with calls for papers and the publication of proceedings.