Study – The colours of Zillij

In this category, I will discuss the different patterns and other subjects regarding the art form of the geometric patterns.

One thing you would notice about the famous Zillij Pattern would be the colours – nowadays the whole spectrum of colours are used in the colouring of the patterns ; from white, light yellows and pinks, ochre and maroons, cobalt and turquoises, emeralds and forest greens, to the darkest blacks.

Originally, when you study the early examples of Zillij tiles, the artisans would use very limited palette of colours : whites, blacks, ochre, and greens. Since the Zillij tiles originated in Morocco, it is also the place where many cultures were intertwined, because of the country is like a crossroad in the middle ages – It is the place where people can go to Gibraltar and Spain, but it is also where Europeans traverse as well when they wanted to go to the Middle East. Hence Morocco was influenced by the passing peoples and their cultures. Also it is worth it note that the Jewish society flourished and experienced a Golden Age  during the Umayyad Caliphate in Western arab region (a.k.a Morocco, Gibraltar and parts of Spain – or Al-Andalus). Many additional colours were introduced, but blue is said to be taken from the Jewish settlers.

It is said that the colours used in the patterns symbolize different things :

Let us see the colours used for this particular pattern. The white, used for the lines, symbolizes purity. The black (looks more like very dark blue here, but could be because of the picture being lightened ) symbolizes the depth of life. The ochre is perhaps a reflection of gold – not to symbolize physical wealth, but to symbolize spiritual abundance. The blue, light sky blue, symbolizes of course the sky, which prompts the viewer to reflect about Heaven. It is also the colour of water, that also leads to the idea of Heaven.

(Also, the design above is referred to as the “Spider” pattern, as I had read. It recalls the story of the Prophet Muhammad and the spider’s nest during the night of Hijra. More on that in the next few posts)

This is an excellent example of Moroccan Zillij, with very expressive colours and very complex pattern. The Star pattern in the middle blooms into a fireworks-like design and surrounded by circular patterns that makes it look like a flower by the means of adding tan ‘borders’. In the outside of the flower pattern were very pronounced radial designs with striking colours of blues and yellows.

The colours white, black, blue and ochre are explained in the above paragraph, but there is some more colours here (you can say that the pattern before this is more traditional). There is green here, two toned with mint green in the center and darker green near the tan border. The colour represents Islam, since Prophet Muhammad himself prefer  it. The bright yellow also is a representation of gold, as pointed out before: It is not a remembrance of physical wealth but that of spiritual fortune. The colour red and maroon is also perhaps a reflection of Islam, because it is said that the prophet also preferred red – because his tent when he goes to war is coloured as such. Perhaps, also it reflects the colour of blood – maybe referring to physical sacrifices.  The pinks, however, eludes any explanation, since I cannot find any. Maybe it refers to the flesh, human flesh to be exact, to represent mankind. But then It could be also be said for the colours tan and brown and naturally, the representation of mankind in tan or brown is more befitting, since Morocco is on Africa and the skin tones there are black and brown, not pinks and whites. Or maybe the pinks represents the roses of which the fragrance of the prophet are most fond of.  Again, this is a reference to religion, in particular Islam.

What does the artisans meaning to say with this symbology of these colours? Perhaps, what they wanted to convey is the message of peace and harmony – basically saying that everything coexist with one another, humankind, what ever religion they believe in or whatever skin colour they are, the nature and everything in the heavens and earth, all are based to the divine power that is God.

Or just maybe, the artisans felt the colours look good. 🙂

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Study – The colours of Zillij

  1. Beautiful. I’ve just come back from the Alahambra and am fascinated about the origin of the designs and pattern in general.

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