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Bordallo Pinheiro’s inevitable tropicalia

By Maison Numen

A ceramics factory in Caldas da Rainha still operates through socially aware artisanal principles established by Pinheiro in 1884

Arte Pinheiro continues an illustrious heritage of Portuguese artisanship. First established 125 years ago, the esteemed sensibility of founding ceramicist Raphael Bordallo Pinheiro lives vibrantly in contemporary earthenware pieces that continue to surprise through their unique combinations of exuberance, humor and delicacy.


Grounded in the local tradition of Caldas pottery, many pieces in the Bordallo Pinheiro collection take decorative cues from lavish flora and natural form that emerges through a Portuguese imaginary stretching across the Atlantic from Europe to Brazil. From the iconic and easily recognizable cabbage-flower bowls to tropical banana leaf platters, orchid-entwined pitchers and densely patterned cake stands, glazed earthenware Pinheiro ceramics further invoke inspiration ranging from Spanish and Arabic patterns to Renaissance motifs, Naturalism and Art Nouveau.


Known for his charismatic caricatures and ceramics, founder Raphael Bordallo originally rose to fame as a comedian and is remembered as the first Portuguese comics creator. The ideological inflections of his celebrated oeuvre reflect values embedded within Portuguese cultural heritage, and the ceramics factory he established in Caldas da Rainha continues to operate today by the same socially aware artisanal principles set forth in 1884. The artist included a school within his original plan for the factory and sales warehouse – architectures that were from the outset immersed within a park setting with natural springs and clay pits. Consequently the earliest Pinheiro ceramics exhibit everyday life in all its glory, whilst contemporary designs delight equally through their wry combination of humor and realism. As objects of use, Arte Pinheiro ceramics are known for their technical excellence and retain an unrivaled status of quality craftsmanship.


Distinguished artisanship and ecological sensibility collide in the celebratory form of Bordallo’s time-honoured designs. The bold, glowing colors of Bordallo Pinheiro ceramics effortlessly capture the tiled promenades and bounteous fruit markets native to their place of origin, Caldas da Rainha (“Queens Hot Springs”) in Western Portugal, an ancient Roman town known for its bubbling sulfurous waters and a reputation as capital of traditional commerce. The ongoing productivity of Pinheiro’s original Fábrica de Faianças das Caldas (now Faianças Artísticas Bordallo Pinheiro) continues to promote the manufacture of Pinheiro’s charismatic artisanal tableware. The project further supports ongoing production of intangible heritage in the historical province of Extremadura.

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