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The history and evolution of the Dutch porcelain 

While travelling from Amsterdam to De Hague with Babs to visit her exhibition, she gave me a memorable introduction to the history of ceramics. She told me stories about the Scholar’s rocks, about how Dutch hospitals have their own collections of art pieces and even how in Italy people decorate their roofs with ceramic vases! One of all these stories she generously shared with me was how the Delft porcelain started as a copy of Chinese porcelain. I found it quite intriguing because, when I was younger, I believed it was an original porcelain that was created by the Dutch and didn’t know that it had any connection with China. So, from what I learned from Babs and some further research, I want to share with you the fascinating story of the origin of Delftware. 

Image 1: Delftware, Kunstmuseum, De Hague

Delftware emerged in the 17th century, when Dutch East India Company, or VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) brought back beautiful blue and white porcelain from China. Since kaolin, the material needed to make porcelain, was not available, the local potters in Delft decided to replicate this style, creating something uniquely Dutch by covering earthenware (ceramic made with clay) in a white tin glaze. This technique provided a perfect canvas for their intricate designs, and it quickly gained popularity. As a result, Delftware became much more accessible to common people than the pieces from their Chinese counterparts. 

Image 2: Various Delftware, Kunstmuseum, De Hague.

While Delftware is most famous for its blue and white colours, it wasn’t limited to just that. As inspired by Italian maiolica pottery, Delft artisans explored a range of colours, adding vibrant polychrome hues to their pieces. This not only displayed their creativity but also drew the ever-evolving interest of collectors. 

Image 3: Iconic Delft Tulip Vase, Kunstmuseum, De Hague.

Delftware soon became a symbol of aristocracy. It adorned the grand homes of nobles and royalty across Europe. Queen Mary II of England, for example, was a huge fan proudly displaying Delftware in her royal palaces, and thus boosting its prestige. These pieces, from impressive tulipieres to elaborate garnitures, were prized for their beauty and craftsmanship. Delftware was in such demand, that they begun to be imitated by the Chinese porcelain factories. These imitations, with decorative designs and shapes borrowed from Europe, were call Chine de commande.

One of the things that makes Delftware so special is its variety of themes and motifs. From charming peasant scenes to whimsical Commedia dell'Arte characters, each piece tells its own story. The artisans also incorporated symbolic motifs like tulips and the traditional well known Dutch shoes, reflecting the Dutch culture and heritage. 

Image 4: Delft Tulip holder in the shape of a cross, Guido, Geelen, 2001.

I found this story quite interesting and it was highly informative for me to learn about the history of Dutch ceramics, and how they evolved from a copy from the kilns of Jingdezhen in China to their artistic evolution that adorn many places around the world. Now, I am eagerly awaiting for more stories from Babs that will make me delve deeper into her inspirations and learn new things about ceramics! 

Image 5: Blooming Peaks, 2023, Babs Haenen, with plate with mountains, Unknown artis, China

Babs, as a Dutch artist, being surrounded by buildings from the VOC era and even having lived and worked for some years in Jingdezhen, the cradle of porcelain making in China, could not stay untouched. All her artworks made from porcelain have this elegance and finesse indicative of the Delftware that made them well known and loved around the world. 


Follow me on this journey to further discover Babs’ inspirations! ヽ(•‿•)ノ

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