IX, 2013, 1

A Stove Tile from Baia and its Complicated Decorative Messages | p. 387–412

decorative arts, medieval books, medieval craftsmen, medieval producers, medieval stove tiles, The Knot of Solomon


Starting point: archaeological discoveries in Baia. A lot of stove tiles were discovered in 1975 in the Moldavian market town of Baia (Suceava County). Among them, one depicted the heraldic signs of the Hunyadi family, from Transylvania, but another was an outstanding item displaying a crowd of decorative motifs. The main motif traces the contours of an overlapping stripe known in the field of decorative arts as „The Knot of Solomon”. Dating. On the basis of its archaeological and historical context the tile lot was dated after 1467, but the heraldic elements decorating some of them allow for a chronological framing between 1453 and 1468. Distribution of the motifs and possible production place of the molds. Tiles with heraldic decorations similar to those on the lot from Baia were also found elsewhere in Moldavia (Suceava, Vaslui). On the other hand, other decorative motifs are rather frequently found on tiles from Transylvania – such as on items from Cristuru Secuiesc, Cădaciu Mare, Cluj, Lăzarea, Racoş, and Sâncrăieni. The author presents the variation in shape encountered on these items, concluding that the tile from Baia is of better quality among the group. Tracking Solomon’s Knot. The analysis continues with the decorative motifs on the stove tile in question. After a short investigation of the symbol’s territory of present-day Romania. One notes the presence of two main variants, employed in the decoration of goldsmith items, stone sculptures, paintings, grafitti, wood inlays, religious textiles, manuscript illuminations, common tableware, and architectural decorative disks. They were mainly employed during the second half of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. After the Reformation, the decorative element seems to disappear.

The mysterious „S”. This symbol is repeated inside the knot. It could have started from a Latin abbreviation open to multiple interpretations. One must nevertheless note its remarkable presence during the Middle Ages, either as an independent item, in the composition of necklaces (the most famous of which is the so-called „Lancaster Necklace”), or part of dress accessories, for example as mantle clasps.

The rosettes. They feature in two pairs, apparently resembling each other, but not similar. One observes that one pair was produced through the impression of separate molds. The flower itself cannot be a rose, but seems to be some other flower from the carnation family.

The main decoration. It indicates beyond doubt the imitation of a precious/half precious stone in a rectangular claw setting. According to this final detail, the author believes that the stove tile might have imitated the cover of a liturgical book.

Instead of conclusions. Solomon’s knot, the rose/carnation, the presumed Lancastrian „S” or maybe just a simple dress fixture, together with the imitation of a cover setting worthy of a pretentious goldsmith work/library, together they decorate one of the most fascinating medieval stove tiles. It was not a simple tile master or designer who chose its inspiration and decoration, but a person who imitated other „beautiful” objects, outside his own trade, but in the same time a person who produced burnt clay objects according to a careful market prospecting. It is doubtful that the prototype held a simple decorative function. It is clear enough that the princeps items of the series were created with great accuracy and that the key to the interpretation of the composition rests in them alone.