This beautiful blue-and-white Dutch tile dates from the 17th century, and probably depicts the baby Moses being deposited in the bulrushes by his mother to protect him from the wrath of the king of Egypt, who had commanded that all Israelite newborns should be put to death – a scene watched, rather quirkily, by an angel and a dog.
Despite its biblical scene, the background scenery is reminiscent of the famous Willow pattern, and betrays the influence that Chinese pottery was having on its Western equivalent at the time. By the 17th century, the importation of Chinese and Japanese porcelain into Europe was common, and a rich exchange of ideas, both artistic and technological, was under way between the two cultures.
Chinese potters copied European wooden, glass, and metal vessels, while Chinese shapes, such as the teapot, were introduced to Europe. Eastern imagery, including flowers and birds, mythical and natural animals, and narrative tales, was reinterpreted in ceramics made in Germany (which produced the first European porcelain in Meissen in the early 18th century), as well as in France and England.
Tiles such as this one would be used in Britain as decorative accents on mantels surrounding open fires, and on the continent on kitchen stoves.
The transfer-printing process began with the design inked onto a thin piece of paper, from either an engraved plate or a lithographic stone. The paper containing the wet oil-based ink image was applied to the surface of the tile, which was then rubbed to transfer the ink. The tile was soaked to remove the paper, then fired at a low temperature to fix the ink before the final glaze was added and the tile was fired again. Colour could be added over the top of the transfer either before or after the final glaze was added.