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The Tring Tiles

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (series)

    • The Tring Tiles
  • Description

    Earthenware tile; red clay slip-decorated with incised 'sgraffito' designs, lead-glazed. Two scenes: left, a man dies because he spoilt a pool that Jesus made; right: he is brought back to life and walks away. One of a group of eight tiles at the British Museum associated with the parish church at Tring, Hertfordshire.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1330
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 328 millimetres
    • Width: 164 millimetres
    • Thickness: 35 millimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Blurton 1997
    This tile is one of a series which show scenes from the Apocryphal Infancy Miracles of Christ. The sequence is remarkable among medieval tiles in that the historiated scenes are so vividly depicted. The relationship of such a fine series of tiles to a minor parish church is puzzling. The tiles are not worn and it is suggested that they may have been made to be placed on a wall. The scenes are depicted with great humour, and the economy of line produces a vividness of expression that borders on caricature. The device of showing the dead person upside down is a remarkable way of showing death. The scenes depicted are very close to those on a medieval manuscript preserved at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and it is possible that both the cartoons for the tiles and the manuscript were based on a common source.Tring tiles
    A group of tiles associated with Tring Church in Hertfordshire. They illustrate scenes from the stories told in the Apocryphal Gospels of the childhood of Christ, which were very popular in the fourteenth century. The illustrations on these tiles resemble those in a manuscript (MS Selden Supra 38) in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, they are not copies but may have shared a common source. It is probable that an artist made cartoons for the tillers to copy; no manuscript would be allowed anywhere near the messy clay and sand in a tilery.
    None of the tiles had been walked on in a pavement but were probably used as a frieze. Ten complete tiles and a few fragments are known. The eight tiles in the British Museum were saved by the incumbent of Tring when they were found during building work in the mid-nineteenth century, and the two in the Victoria and Albert Museum were saved by a local resident.
    The method used is known as sgraffiato. The tilers coated the whole surface of the tile with liquid white clay or slip, drew the outline of the figures and internal detail with a stylus cutting through the white slip and into the red clay of the tile. The white slip was then removed from the background with a small gouge about 4mm wide. It is certain that this work was carried out by hand: there are a number of mistakes where the tiler scored a line which should not have been there, and on one tile he gouged away the white clay that should have been left on the body of one of the figures. Sgraffiato depended entirely on hand work and would therefore have been expensive; it was used in France to decorate tomb slabs which were individual items. The tiles from Tring may have been made in France.

    Source: Eames 1992 English Tilers BM Press Medieval Craftsmen Series.


  • Bibliography

    • Eames 1980 Vol 1 11577 bibliographic details
    • Blurton 1997 211 bibliographic details
    • Alexander & Binski 1987 Cat.217, pp.283-4 bibliographic details
    • Robinson 2008 p. 118 bibliographic details
    • Eames 1980 Vol 2 pl 15 bibliographic details
    • Eames 1980 Vol 2 pl 16 bibliographic details
    • Eames 1992 pp.35-6 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G40/dc15

  • Exhibition history

    1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
    1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
    1987 6 Nov-1988 6 Mar, London, Royal Academy of Arts, Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400

  • Condition

    Damaged, very fine.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Image Caption:Tiles 1-4


COMPASS Image Caption:Tiles 1-4

Image description



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Object reference number: MCP5836

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