Painted Pottery Is Netherlands Town's Biggest Draw

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.

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