Corner motifs

After I have mention several times different corner motifs I think it´s time to explain "this" in detail.

The term means the painting in all four corners of the tile, which changed during the centuries according to the contemporary fashion. Here now is an overview about the characteristic motifs:

In the 16th century the Italian majolica technique, completed by Spanish-Moorish influence, characterized the pattern of tiles between 1570 and 1635.  

Magpie in "Italian circle band" (circular border constructed from more than three rings); polychrome; corner motif: quarter rosette (reserve technique); Rotterdam, 1590 - 1625, 13,5 x 13,5 x 1,5 cm 

At this time Moorish ornaments (for instance the palmette, also called: "cogwheel") were predominant as well as the Italian quarter rosette

Lion in a diamond; corner motif: palmette in reserve ("cogwheel"); polychrome; probably province Holland, 1580 - 1625, approx. 1600; 13,4 x 13,4 x 1,5 cm

The corner motif were painted in reserve technique. That means that the white tin-glaze was left "reserved" as pattern in the dark (blue) painted background.

Already about 1610 you find the first polychrome corner motifs in style of the Burgundy (or French) lily.

Pomgranate; polychrome; 
corner motif: polychrome lily; province Holland, 
1620 - 1650; 
13,8 x 13,8 x 1,7 cm

From approximately 1620 on the tile painters, inspired by imports of chinese porcelain, started to decorate tiles in the typical blue an white colour. This is also the time when the fretwork corner motif (copied from the Chineese "meander") developed, which displaced the Moorish patterns step by step.

Fox on "Rotterdam landscape" in a circle, so called "Rotterdamse kroontegel"; blue; corner motif: fretwork; Rotterdam, 1630 - 1650; 13,2 x 13,2 x 1,4 cm

About the same period the ox-head can be found for the first time. Although G. Kaufmann pointed out, that this motif is rather a stylized arabesque (motif of ranks), the term ox-head has interspersed until these days.

Flowervase ("Bloempotje"); blue; corner motif: (large) ox-head; province Holland,
1620 - 1650;  
13,2 x 13,2 x 1,4 cm

By the end of the first quarter of the 17th century the painters began to decorate the corners with leaf motifs, e.g. the naturalistic painted vine or oak leaf. But you also find more stylized leaf patterns, especially the so-called winged leaf

Hunting scene: fight between bear and hound in
accolade; blue; corner motif: winged leaf; 12,8 x 12,8 x 1,0 cm; rare

Even the motif of three dots was created in that time (also called sign of the "Holy Trinity"), modified from the ox-head and leaf,

Flower in oval border; polychrome; corner motif: three dot; 1620 - 1650; 13,0 x 13,0 x 1,2 cm


as well as the volute, a "C"-shaped pattern consist of "C"-shaped scrolls, used from 1625 to 1670, and of course different types of quarter rosettes, now no longer painted in reserve. 

Cow; blue; corner motif: 
rare type of quarter rosette; 1625 - 1650;
13,0 x 13,0 x 1,4 cm

Starting from 1640 the spiderhead („spinnenkopje“) appears, mostly called "spider".

Biblical scene: "flagellation
 of Jesus" (John XIX.1.; Matthew XXVII.26.; Mark XV.15.); blue; corner motif: "early" spider;
 probably Rotterdam, 
1670 - 1700, 
12,7 x 12,7 x 1,0 cm

Towards the end of the 17th century some geometric corner motifs on powdered ground came up, which shall remind to the reserve technique, such as the quarter rosette, the quarter circle, the quarter star and the heart.

Shepherd scene; central part blue surrounded by a purple powdered diamond; also purple powdered quarter circle corners;
1670 - 1700;
12,6 x 12,6 x 1,0 cm

Shepherd scene; central part blue in a circle surrounded by a square on purple powdered ground; powdered star-block corners with quarter rosettes; 1700 - 1730; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,8 cm

Shepherd scene; central part blue surrounded by an eight-lobed double quartrefoil (octofoil) on a purple powdered ground; corner motif: heart in reserve; 1700 - 1770; 12,5 x 12,5 x 1,0 cm

At the beginning of the 18th century further motifs joined, like the carnation, several other kinds of leaves, for example the quarter shamrock, mixed patterns between bloom and leaf, the so called feathered corner ("geveerde Hoek"), and finally again differend types of the quarter rosette.

Two landscape tiles with carnation as corner motif; left: winter scene with scaters; blue and mangan; Rotterdam, 1740 - 1780; 12,8 x 12,8 x 0,8 cm; right: farmer coming home with ox blowing his horn; purple; Amsterdam, 1720 - 1770; 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,7 cm

The ox-head and the spider are by far the most commen corner motifs in the 19th and 20th century. Nearly the same applies to the on flower vases tiles painted modified fretwork.

Romantic shepherd scene; blue; with the typical spider corner motif of the 18th c.
 (1700 - 1750);
12,9 x 12,9 x 0,8 cm


The pattern of corner motifs from the same type changed over the centuries. You can see that for example at first for the ox-head. Starting from 1620 (sometimes even from 1610 on) this corner motif looked different than that smaller motif starting from the second half of the 17th century, which was designed even much thinner in the 18th and 19th century.

Two landscapes; left: farmer watering his cow; purple; 12,9 x 12,9 x 0,7 cm; right: shepherds with herd; blue; 12,8 x 12,8 x 0,9 cm; both with typical ox-head corner motifs of the 18th c.

The same effect can be noticed, if you look at the spider, which had more flourishes still in the 18th century and however the shape of a small four leaved flower in the 19th and 20th century

Four landscape tiles placed together to an ongoing landscape with buildings and ships, called island landscape; purple; each tile: 13,0 x 13,0 x 0,7 cm, with typical spider corner motifs of the 19th c. (Fig.: Utrecht, approx. 1850 - 1880) 

With those facts (motifs and shapes) a certain clue for daiting delft tiles can be given (see link determination of age).

Here now sumed up  

a choise of typical corner motifs


quarter rosette






winged leaf


three dot



quarter star




quarter rosette 


The one who wants to know more about the dating of corner motifs, can find detailed information under this link: Dating  of corner motifs.