The Christopher Columbus Gallery

Columbus Tiles

Ceramic, glazed polychrome enamel, c. late 15th-early 16th century
Cuenca-style (Spanish cell)
Bequest of Dr. Constantine E. McGuire

Columbus tiles

These ceramic tiles were purportedly brought by Columbus as ballast on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493. Later, they were used in decoration of the Church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary) built at the original site of Santo Domingo between 1499-1502.

Columbus had sent an exploring party to find a more suitable site for colonization after La Isabella failed and a location at the mouth of the east bank of the Ozama River was selected. Thus the “old city” of Santo Domingo came to be. It was later destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt on the other side of the river after that date. The church remained in ruins until sometime between 1820-1945, when it was reconstructed in its present state.

Cuenca-style tiles, a technique developed in Spain in the late 15th-early 16th century are the earliest of the commonly found tile types in the New World. They appear in New World Spanish colonial sites constructed between 1500-75, and are distinguished by their stamped designs filled with polychrome enamel. This technique helped to keep the glazes from running together. Here, the design is naturalistic in motif and executed in shades of sienna, green and blue over a cream-color soft paste.