The Dutch East India Company founded in 1602 was a major trading partner serving Asia. Although most of their consignments were imports from India, chief among them spices and sugarcane, Chinese porcelain began making its way into their cargo holds. The porcelain china with blue motifs became extremely popular with affluent families as well as the royalty of the Netherlands.
The importation of Chinese porcelain declined as a result of civil wars and unrest in China. Local pottery manufacturers saw this as an opportunity to fulfill the need for this coveted porcelain. The Netherlands did not possess the right kind of clay to make exact replicas of the sought-after Chinese pottery, however they were able to mimic it with a pottery technique that included a finishing touch of a thin glaze. The Dutch replications soon made inroads with affluent collectors along with becoming a local favorite among all classes.
The City of Delft, which was a home port for the Dutch East Indian Company was first in attempting to imitate the Chinese porcelain. When it became accepted and demand soared, 32 pottery manufactures in Delft began churning out this now Dutch product which eventually became known as Delftware or Delft Blue. Its popularity and the demand for the Netherlands new indigenous product, Delftware, soon led to specialties among the factories that had spread to Rotterdam which was home to 12 Delftware pottery factories.
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Delft was a city with a history dating back to the 1100s. At the time of the revolution of Hollands own earthenware hand painted pottery it was also the home to a community of painters. The hand painted patterns of the Holland pottery factories had a ready resource of painters seeking work, this worked out well for the painters as well as the pottery factories.
Although there is no record of his having been employed by a pottery manufacturer Delft was the home to Johannes Vermeer as well as to a host of other painters who were classified as artists of the Delft School. The artists of the Delft School were known for their images of domestic life, views of households, the streets of Delft along with its churches and courtyards. These painters were among Dutch artists from a golden period of art who included Pieter de Hoogh, Carel Fabritius, Nicolaes Maes, Gerard Houckgeest.
They often supplemented their income by doing commissioned portraits along with decorative art that included flowers. Students, admirers and imitators of these golden age artists were most likely employed by the pottery factories to hand paint the intricate designs of the Netherlands new national treasure, blue earthenware.
Tile Painting “de Schuttersmaaltijd” (The Rifleman’s Meal) is based on a work by Bartholomeus van der Helst (1648). In 1891, Queen Emma gives this tile picture as a present to Keizer Wilhelm II of Germany.
Tile Painting The Night Watch after Rembrandt van Rijn 1642
This tile painting has been painted in the same size as the original painting and consists of 280 tiles.
Tile Painting after Antonie van Dijck (1599-1641)
Portraits of Prince Willem II and Princess Henriette Mary Stuart in 1641
Painter of the tile painting from 1924 is Th. Van Lingen
In the 18th century the popularity of Holland’s prized industry was taking a hit from the discovery of porcelain clay in Europe along with white baking clay. It was an immediate challenger to the Delft pottery as it did not require the layer of white glaze, the more delicate patterns of the pottery made with the white clay were covered with a layer of transparent glaze.
By the end of the 19th century the once thriving Delft Blue pottery industry was left with one factory which gave up the technique of hand painting in favor of mass printing of the famed pottery. In 1876, Joost Thooft bought the remaining factory intent on restoring the old technique of manufacturing this earthenware that was once a national treasure. Along with his associate Abel Labouchere they succeeded in developing a mixture of white clay with the Dutch clay to produce an earthenware that resembled the stronger English earthenware that had gained favor throughout the world. Combining the new clay mixture with the hand painting techniques of the past, earthenware produced in Delft gained worldwide recognition. Joost Thooft added the initials JT and the word Delft to the trademark as a sign of authenticity. Upon Mr. Thooft’s early death at the age of 46, Abel Labouchere became the sole owner incorporating the factory as a limited liability corporation under “De Porceleyne Fles”. In 1919, in appreciation of the companies work in restoring the fame of Delft Blue produced pottery the word “Royal” was granted to “De Porceleyne Fles”.
Today visitors can tour the factory of the Royal Delft Group at Rotterdamseweg 196, 2628 AR Delft, Netherlands. Tours are available 7 days a week with seasonal touring times, check the web site for details and available tour packages. Guests can experience combination tours of this historic city as well as the inner workings of the production and history of Royal Delft. A wide array of packages is available for visitors who have a few hours or whole days to explore a city made famous by earthenware and artists.
Royal Delft offers a variety of packages that include exquisite coffee hour, lunches, dinners, painting classes or a Glorious High Tea at Brasserie 1653. The treats of High Tea are made in accordance with recorded recipes from the 17th century which include the spices characteristic of a time when they were imported by the Dutch East India Company.
A delicate meal, coffee, lunch or a short respite are all available at Brasserie 1653 which is accessible with or without admission to the factory museum tours. Brasserie 1653 is a light and airy European style cafe that overlooks the courtyard of the factory museum.
The factory museum shop features a superior collection of Delft Blue including dinnerware, vases, jewelry as well as themed Delft Blue for holidays. A visit to the Royal Delft is more than a tour of a pottery factory, it is an immersion into another century, another culture and a product that is a work of art. It is well worth a day’s journey to include Delft on your Netherlands experience.
Story by Daniel Dachille and Laine Page
Video Voice over by Jim Reynolds