Reed Travel Features
DELFT, Netherlands -- The well-preserved historic center, arched
bridges, canals and old Dutch houses long have attracted visitors
to this quaint town situated halfway between The Hague and
Rotterdam on the River Vliet. Yet one of its biggest draws is the
blue and white painted pottery called Delftware or Delft Blue,
which was one of the most important forms of applied art to come
out of Holland during the 17th century.
Although the explosion of arts during Holland's Golden Age is
readily remembered for the paintings of Dutch masters such as
Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals, other forms of art also
flourished, namely architecture, sculpture, furniture making and
the production of ceramics. At Delft's historic Royal Porceleyne
Fles, which is touted as the only remaining factory still producing
the elegant Delftware according to traditional methods, travelers
can view antique ceramic wares, learn about the history of the art
form, witness the production process and buy pieces. Many tour
operators feature Holland programs that spotlight the town of Delft
and the Royal Porceleyne Fles.
Delft began producing its characteristic tin-glazed,
blue-and-white pottery during the early 1600s after trading ships
from the Dutch East Indies Co. returned from the Far East with
Chinese porcelain. The popularity of the delicate blue-and-white
Chinese pieces prompted Dutch potters to attempt to imitate the
Chinese wares, producing plates, bowls, vases, jars and titles. The
Dutch potters did not know the art of making porcelain, but
refining their own technique, they were successful in producing
beautiful objects often decorated with landscapes and biblical or
genre scenes. The pieces found a receptive market during the 17th
century, and the subsequent importation of Chinese as well as
Japanese porcelain that showed great improvement in technique led
the Dutch potters to perfect their art.
Although blue-and-white pottery was the main product, they also
began creating works in other color combinations on a white
background, including yellow, green, blue and red-brown, and red,
blue and gold. Many other towns in Holland had potteries, but Delft
became the center of the pottery industry in the country, with
roughly 30 potteries. De Porceleyne Fles, which means the Porcelain
Jar, was founded in 1653.
In the 18th century, the Dutch pottery industry suffered from
competition in Saxony, from the founding of porcelain factories in
other countries and from the invention of a white pottery body in
England that led to a higher-quality product. The Dutch potters
were unable to compete with the new porcelain and the English ware.
By the mid-19th century, De Porceleyne Fles was the only remaining
pottery in Delft, but the works produced were of cheap quality and
mainly made for export trade. In 1876, Joost Thooft bought the
factory, and revived the art of the intricate, hand-painted blue
decoration using the white body of the English stoneware. The new
product added value to Delftware, and the company was granted the
title "Royal" in 1919 in appreciation for re-establishing the
significance of Delftware around the world.
A wide selection of Delftware is exhibited in the museum and
showrooms of the Royal Porceleyne Fles, and ceramic architectural
details can be viewed in the building's inner courtyard. Royal
Porceleyne Fles produces the classic blue and white Delftware as
well as other traditional color schemes that can be traced to the
17th century. Delftware collections also are exhibited in many
museums throughout the Netherlands, including the Rijksmuseum Huis
Lambert van Meerten in Delft, the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and
the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
For additional information on Holland, call (888) 2-HOLLAND.