Notebook, 1993-


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Pottery & Porcelain - Dutch

I N D E X - Dutch Pottery - Early Flemish and Dutch Majolica - Blue-and -White - Polychrome Wares - Dutch Figures - Dutch Fašence Made in Other Towns - Dutch Tiles - Dutch Forgeries - Dutch Porcelain

Dutch Pottery
When the name of a substance, such as nylon, or a product, such as Leica, is adopted immediately into the vocabulary of every civilized nation it is convincing proof of both its novelty and its worldwide appeal. The use of the name of a small Dutch town, Delft, spelt in a variety of ways, to describe more or less any blue-and-white earthenware in a score of different languages, leaves us in no doubt of the absolute pre-eminence enjoyed by the wares produced in that town over a period of some 150 years. It is the purpose of this chapter to give, briefly, the history of the evolution of those wares, to distinguish the various types, discuss their merits, and give some guidance to collectors. [p. 431]

Early Flemish and Dutch Majolica
The technique of painting in high-temperature colours on a tin-enamel surface came north over the Alps from Italy early in the sixteenth century. We know that a potter from Castel Durante, Guido di Savino, who took the name of Guido Andriesz, settled in Antwerp in 1508, and we may take that date as the beginning of the school of South Netherlands majolica, which flourished for a hundred years and more. Other Italians, from Brescia and Venice, soon followed, and important commissions, especially for coloured tile pavements, have survived. Soon the drug pots and dishes began to acquire local characteristics which made them, in spite of their coloring, unmistakably non-Italian. The strong blue, green, deep orange, and yellow, with manganese outlines, were reminiscent of Urbino and Faenza, but were soon applied in characteristic groups of fruit, surrounded by circular bands of colouring. Two Italian motifs, which were to become Netherlandish specialties, were the strapwork, evolved from the cartouche, and the grotesques, derived via Urbino from Raphael's decorations in the Vatican--decorations themselves copied from ancient Rome. Unlike its Italian prototype, this Netherlands majolica seems to have been made only in 'useful' wares.

By the third quarter of the century, Antwerp potters are known to have moved father north, just as Jaspar Andries [believed to be a son or grandson of Guido di Savino] moved to England in 1567 and began the long history of 'English Delft' some years before such wares were ever made at Delft itself. We have records of such Antwerp potters in Amsterdam [1584], Dordrecht, Middleburg, Rotterdam, Haarlem [1573], where they flourished, and eventually in Delft [1584]

It is extremely hard to classify these impressive early pieces, or to say with certainty that a particular piece was made in the North rather than in the South. The bold dishes, not unlike our 'blue-dash chargers', were tin-enamelled on the front only, the back being covered with a transparent lead glaze, showing the greyish yellow of the clay. There is no evidence, from excavation, that the wares decorated with groteschi of Urbino type were ever made in the North. Certain plain blue-and-white drug pots,with a gradroon border, are held to be Dutch. A type of plate with birds and animals painted on a dark-blue [p. 431] ground seems, on the evidence of the large quantity of fragments excavated, to be exclusively North Netherlandish, and was probably made at Rotterdam, as were the majority of the plates with stylized rosettes or chequered patterns. Pots and dishes in which the colours are exceptionally strong, and have been less well assimilated with the glaze, so that they seem almost to be in relief, are held, partly on the evidence of tiles, to be of North Netherlandish make, as are those which add dark-blue grapes to the conventional clusters of apples and pomegranates.

Northern also are the plates with raised knobs on the border and bearing pious inscriptions such as Eert Godt altijt [Honour God always], a type which, starting as early as 1580, even crops up in blue-and-white in the late 18th century. The palette used in these is unpleasing: a very strong blue, a pure bright ochrous orange, and a vivid opaque light green. It occurs in a number of plates with similar borders showing milkmaids [sometimes with a date] and coats-of-arms [generally imaginary], nearly all of which date from the first quarter of the 17th century. These, with the gadrooned albarelli and the blue-ground plates mentioned above, give us a fairly accurate picture of the North Netherlands majolica, which we can amplify by the study of the tiles. The few more elaborately decorated pieces which have survived seem to be almost certainly of South Netherlands and Antwerp origin, to which city may also be ascribed any pieces showing a pure, clear lemon yellow. It is worth commenting that an inscription in Dutch, or Flemish, cannot be considered as evidence one way or another.

Suffice it to say that by the close of the sixteenth century majolica was being made in a great number of Dutch towns, with Haarlem perhaps achieving the greatest technical perfection and Rotterdam producing the greatest quantity, especially of tiles. Dishes were still covered with lead glaze on the back: a practice which was not wholly abandoned until near the middle of the next century. Very little of it was marked, and one of the marks may be ascribed with any certainty to a particular marker, any more than pieces can be attributed, except by conjecture, to a particular place of origin.

All these early wares, the incunabula of Dutch pottery, are of Italian inspiration, however, much design and colouring may have undergone a local modification. They are vigorous and confident, unsophisticated and unpretentious, attractive in their own artistic right as well as in the problem of origin which each separate piece poses to collector, dealer, and museum expert alike. Yet they remain essentially derivative, a late offshoot of a great tradition. Dutch majolica, in the making of which the Northern potters were building up an invaluable tradition of knowledge and skill, still awaited the external impulse which was to give it a new direction, a life of its own, and was to help it develop, with all the vigour of a young and prosperous nation, into something specifically and uniquely Dutch, one of the great monuments of ceramic art which, in its turn, fertilized and influenced the whole field of ceramic activity in Europe.

This external impulse came, in 1602, from the landing of the first large cargo of Chinese porcelain in Amsterdam. Chinese blue-and-white pieces had long been known and the material treated with awe as something wellnigh magical. This arrival in quantity, however, caused a revolution in taste. At first it was only the decoration which was imitated, and from about 1610 onwards we have a series of chargers with deep-blue borders on which appear, in reserves, the conventional Wan Li designs of Buddhist emblems, etc. For a while these were combined with center decorations done in the old Netherlands palette of blue, bright green, ochre, and reddish brown, and the Chinese frame might surround a Dutch landscape, fruit bowls, or a Madonna and Child. But soon the blue-and-white monochrome swept all before it, and a dish of that type appears in the arms of the Haarlem potters [1635]. An important further consequence of greater familiarity with Chinese originals was that it became customary to apply tin-enamel to the back of the dish as well as the front, in order more closely to imitate porcelain. The earliest surviving fragment thus glazed back and front is dated 1622.

From now on, for over a hundred years, the decoration of by far the greater part of Dutch earthenware was to be Chinese in character. That it was not slavishly imitative but developed a character of its own is largely for technical reasons. The softness of the glaze, into which the decoration seemed to melt, was one such factor. More important, and more of an obstacle to any too minute copying, was the fact that the decorators were painting on to a highly absorbent ground, on which their colour dried instantly, allowing no retouching and demanding a swift and confident brush stroke. Some pieces were indeed made which, at first glance or behind the glass of a museum cabinet, are impossible to distinguish from K'ang Hsi originals. But soon the introduction of manganese outlines, the combination of Chinese with baroque motifs, the illustrating of scenes from Dutch life, all helped to create that intensely individual character which distinguishes Dutch Delft from the Chinese decoration which inspired it and from the innumerable imitations which were made, all over the rest of Europe, from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards.

'Dutch Delft': it may seem doubly tautological to use the phrase, but one can avoid it no longer. The first of these Wan Li dishes were probably made at Haarlem, whence the earliest recorded potters in Delft had come. Yet by 1650 Delft had established a predominance it was never to lose. Potteries continued to produce good work in Haarlem, Friesland, and elsewhere, while Rotterdam became the great manufacturer of tiles. Yet qualitatively and quantitatively, Delft stood alone in its high repute for the production of luxurious wares of every shape and every degree of elaboration. This was in part due to its convenient geographical position, between the estuaries of the Rhine and the Meuse and the rest of Holland, and near to the North Sea. But no town in Holland lacks access to the country's waterways. The rise of Delft must be ascribed to the chance of a combination of propitious circumstances.

The geographical position, the arrival of large quantities of blue-and-white ware from China, the rapidly increasing prosperity of the country, seeking a new outlet for capital, and the sudden decline of the important Delft brewing industry, suffering from the competition with English beer [by 1667 only 15 of over 180 breweries were still working]. This last was possibly decisive, as the buildings were thus made available for those who wished to set up a pottery. In fact, many potteries took over the names of the breweries they replaced: the Three Bells, the Rose, the Peacock, the Greek A, and many others which have become familiar to lovers of Delft. The new industry doubtless also profited by the rebuilding of much of the town after the explosion of the powder magazine in 1654. As the second half of the seventeenth century began, the industry at Delft was launched on the greatest period of its existence, in which it was to continue with unabated prosperity until well into the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

For convenience it will be best to discuss the wares produced at Delft according to types of colouring: blue-and-white, polychrome high-temperature, and polychrome produced in the muffle kiln. This is, however, a division of convenience only. It should be remembered not only that blue-and-white remained the staple and most characteristic product right until the decline of the industry at the end of the eighteenth century but also that it was in blue-and-white, after the abandoning of the north Netherlandish majolica palette, that the first great triumphs of Delft earthenware were made [pp. 431-433]

Blue-and -White
In the second half of the seventeenth century the wares made fall into two main classes. Earliest perhaps were the large dishes known, from the Chinese porcelain brought round the Cape, as Kaapsche Schotels. These show the traditional late Ming border round a central octagon or hexagon in which are drawn waterfowl or deer of conventional Chinese pattern, or a bowl of peonies and other flowers standing on a low table on a terrace. One is immediately impressed by the great size of these dishes, most of which are at least 18 inches [45.3 cm] across, by the remarkable thinness of the potting, which is in fact as thin as the porcelain it strives to imitate, and by the extreme delicacy with which the elaborate fretted backgrounds are drawn. It was on these dishes that the outlining in black or dark manganese was first applied, the trek which became so distinctive a feature of Delft. Here also we notice the introduction of the kwaart, the final coating of lead glaze, applied to the front only, giving a special brilliance to the finished article. Few of these pieces, which were mostly made between 1660 and 1700, are dated or marked, though a fine specimen in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, unusual also in its brilliant white, as opposed to bluish, glaze, bears the exceptionally late date 1718.

Alongside these Oriental designs developed the wares whose decoration sought its inspiration nearer home, drawing especially on the vast wealth of [p. 433] engraving and etching produced as an offshoot of the great contemporary School of Dutch painting. Here we see the last vestiges, and only undoubtedly Northern examples, of the Urbino grotesques so popular at Antwerp. In blue monochrome, they surround such pictures as the famous one of the young Prince of Orange, and gradually fine down to a strip of decoration round some purely Dutch biblical scene. Work of this quality was primarily meant for display, as is shown by the large number of plaques which have survived from the early period. The etchings of Berchem were specially popular sources, and there is no doubt as to the superlative quality of the workmanship.

In spite of all that enthusiastic perusers of marks have conjectured, it seems most likely that these finer works were executed as special commissions by special artists, working as Hausmaler. We know from inventories that there was a fashion for 'porcelain landscapes' sometimes described as 'in ebony frames'. To these must be added the small, but often illustrated, group of portraits of Protestant divines. These portraits are clearly the work of gifted artists, not of copyists, and the small hole at the top of each rectangular plaque makes it clear that it was meant to hang.

Supreme among these independents is Frederick Frijtom, whom we can trace as an immigrant to Delft in 1658, where he remained until his death in 1702. A number of highly elaborate landscape plaques have survived, such as we find mentioned as by him, in contemporary wills and inventories. They are of such quality as to expose the wishful thinking underlying the ascription to him of clumsier work. Even more remarkable are the plates, of which some two dozen have survived, showing simple landscape scenes of woodland and riverside within a broad border left severely unornamented. Such unpretentious little views have a close affinity with the innumerable landscape etchings being produced at the time by Waterloo and others. Yet these are original works of art. On the exceptionally brilliant white ground the scenes are drawn in a series of lines and dots, distance being conveyed by a more delicate, finer touch and an ever paler blue. They are unlike anything else ever made and belong to the supreme ceramic masterpieces of all times and countries.

It was in the last twenty years of the century that the industry began to be organized into larger groups, and it is from then onwards that we find greater numbers of marked pieces. At one time it was believed that these marks were those of individual artists, but a closer examination has shown that the same mark occurs on pieces clearly by a number of different hands, or on pieces which, for stylistic reasons, must have been made long after a particular supposed author was dead. The marks are now taken to refer to the owners or lessees of the various potteries, the capitalists who were venturing into the rising industry. Some of these can be shown to have managed several different factories at different times.

In this first great period various marks are preeminent. Perhaps the earliest pieces are those marked SVE, in monogram. These date from the period 1675-86, when Samuel van Eenhoorn ran the 'Greek A' factory--the only one with which his name is connected and one which had a long, distinguished history under a number of famous potters. The figures on SVE pieces are almost always outlined in black or purplish trek, and are mostly decorated with Chinese scenes. The glaze is bluish, and the monochrome blue varied, in the same piece, from deep to pale, often with a strong mauve tinge. Samuel van Eenhoorn was followed, in the same factory, by Adriranus Kocx, whose monogram AK is found on many of the most ambitious pieces made between [p. 434] 1690 and 1700, and who also produced, in a particularly brilliant blue, some of the closest replicas of K'ang Hsi blue-and-white. A closer study of AK pieces shows very clearly how these factories worked. Normally such pieces were made in standard baroque shapes and decorated with a mixture of baroque and Chinese designs. Special commissions were clearly farmed out to special decorators, men whose skill was something very different from that of the average workman. Pieces commissioned by William and Mary for Hampton Court [for which the bills, dated 1695, have survived] were based on the designs of Daniel Marot, who also designed the parterres in the garden. The very delicate draughtsmanship on these famous vases, considered in conjunction with the finest landscape and portrait plaques and the work of Frijtom, suggests that quite apart from the standard pottery production, gifted artists, working rather in the manner of Hausmaler, frequently tried their hand in the new medium, just as, in 1711, Sir James Thornhill, Hogarth's father-in-law, decorated and inscribed a splendid series of plates with the signs and emblems of the Zodiac.

On Kock's death in 1701, the factory was continued by his son Pieter Adriaensz Kocx, who died soon after. His widow continued the work, using his PAK monogram, far into the eighteenth century. We shall come across it again in discussing polychrome wares. It seems certain that the AK mark was widely copied by contemporaries [it is even found on Chinese porcelain] and probably that the factory continued to use it for some time after 1700.

The factory of Rochus Hoppesteyn, at the Moor's Head, produced some of the most distinctive, and most highly prized, work of the late 17th century. It is akin to that marked SVE, but the glaze is bluer and more brilliant, the trek darker, the drawing firmer, and many pieces are made notable by a skillful use of gold and an unusually clear and brilliant cornelian red. His mark was RHS in monogram, to which a Moor's Head is sometimes added. Closely associated with these pieces, and possibly produced in the same factory, is a series of large vases and fine dishes, ornamented in blue with scenes from Italian engravings, surrounded by arabesque borders in a paler version of the Hoppersteyn colours--including a foxy red and an olive green. The palette is distinctive, and once seen cannot be mistaken. Most of this group are marked with the monogram IW. For many years this was believed to refer to the father of Rochus Hoppesteyn, but that attribution is no longer considered tenable. It is more likely to be the mark of an independent decorator.

Perhaps most prolific of these early decorators and factories, was that which marked its productions with LVE in monogram. This mark, very often accompanied by numbers and by individual potters' [p. 435] monograms, occurs on innumerable pieces of blue-and-white made between 1700 and 1720. Most are of a bold and brilliant blue, with a highly shiny kwaart. The use of trek is rare, and the decoration tends to be crowded. It is also found on an important group of black-ground pieces. The mark is that of Lambertus van Eenhoorn. It has long been fashionable to divide this monogram between him and Louwijs Victoorsz. This theory, which still has its doughty champions, seems untenable. There is no clear stylistic break to suggest a dividing line; the monogram is clearly LVE or LVF, and Vitoorsz never wrote, or could have written his name with an F. The desperate suggestion that the F stands for fecit is irreconcilable either with what we know of factory practice or the nonexistence of any other instance of the word being used by a Delft potter.

Last, but among the very best of all, must be considered the wares made at the 'Rose' factory, almost all of which are of quite exceptional quality. Most famous, perhaps, is a series of blue-and-white plates of New Testament scenes, within a border of cloudborne putti. But there are also dazzling imitations of famille verte, a unique bottle with Near Eastern decoration, and a magnificent polychrome set of five massive vases of k'ang Hsi design, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The factory mark was either the word 'Roos' or a capital R, often surrounded by groups of dots, and sometimes, though more rarely, a stylized drawing of a rose.

Blue-and-white continued as the main product of the Delft factories throughout the eighteenth century. Designs became more stereotyped, Oriental being modified first with baroque motifs of lambrequins and the like, then with the more asymmetrical curls and graces of the rococo. Artistically there was a decline in freshness and originality from about 1730, though much attractive earthenware continued to be made. In 1764, chiefly to protect themselves against 'pirate' competition, the leading makers deposited their marks at the Town Hall. For that period, therefore, we have a reliable hand list. The best makers in the second half of the century were:

The White Star a star
The Claw a leg with claws
The Greek A capital A with initials
The Porcelain Axe a hatchet
The Ewer PK
The Three Bells three bells

Plates, jugs, and the like were produced decorated with scenes from various trades, or of the months, biblical scenes, shepherds and shepherdesses, coats-of-arms, beautiful interlaced ciphers, and loyal references to the House of Orange. In the 1760s and 1770s the repertoire became restricted and repetitive, and a few familiar designs, such as those of a large tree laden with fruit, of a 'fan' of peacocks' feathers and of a goddess with a cornucopia were made indiscriminately by all the surviving factories. Special mention must be made of the large drug pots and tobacco jars, simple pieces with standardized decoration, but handsome and satisfying in both shape and design.

The Delft industry survived the twofold competition of the enormously increased import from China and the rise of the German hard-paste porcelain. Yet by 1770 it was hard hit by a new rival: English creamwares, which captured the European market by their lightness, cheapness, and Louis XVI elegance. By 1790 only ten factories were still in production, and early in the 19th century only two were still making tin-enamelled wares, and the prosperity not only of the industry but also of the town whose name it had spread all over the civilized world had come to an end. [pp. 433-437]


[L. G. G. Ramsey, F.S.A., ed. The Complete Color Encyclopedia of Antiques. Preface by Bevis Hillier, Editor of The Connoisseur. Compiled by The Connoisseur, London. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 1962. Revised and Expanded Edition.]



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