What Does Delftware Look Like?

It's easy to see why Dutch Delftware is often mistaken for porcelain. Delft artisans meticulously emulated the shapes and designs of the highly coveted porcelain pieces brought from China.

Far from authentic

In their quest to replicate the exquisite qualities of Chinese porcelain, the creators of ‘Delft porceleyn’ aimed to craft items with slender walls, a smooth white base, and a lustrous finish. The thin, nearly see-through quality and the bright white appearance of Asian porcelain quickly won over European consumers. Shortly after the Dutch East India Company began importing these coveted items, local potters in various Dutch cities began attempting to recreate these appealing, exotic pieces.

A skilled delftware potter

Adding marl allowed the potters to create more delicate shapes

The innovation of tin glaze significantly transformed pottery in Holland, introduced by immigrants skilled in this technique. By incorporating marl into their clay mixtures, potters discovered that the resulting less fatty clay allowed them to craft finer, more porcelain-like shapes. Though not actual porcelain, this modified clay would fire into a yellowish or light red color, evident where the glaze occasionally chips away.

When Delft potters started fully immersing their pottery in tin glaze, they achieved a comprehensive coating, unlike the partial application used previously. This traditional technique allowed them to create high-quality faience that closely mimicked the appearance of porcelain.

Delft Black

Contrary to the common belief that Dutch Delftware is exclusively blue and white, echoing Chinese porcelain, a shift occurred around 1680. From then on, artisans began incorporating a variety of colors into their designs. By the 18th century, this palette had expanded to include red, yellow, and even gold. A particularly notable variant featured a black base, crafted to emulate the sophisticated look of oriental lacquer ware and porcelain.

A delftware artisan making chinoiserie style decorations

Delft faience can be adorned in a wide variety of colors

Cows and dragons

Dutch delftware, known for its intricate decorations, seamlessly blended Eastern and Western designs. The initial inspiration for these designs came from Oriental motifs found on Kraak ware, so named for the Portuguese ships that introduced it to Europe. Delft artisans excelled at merging these Eastern designs with Western artistic elements, creating the popular European style known as Chinoiserie.

Western influences on Delftware often came from various prints and artworks. Designs frequently featured the Dutch royal family's historical moments, biblical narratives, and idyllic landscape scenes reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch paintings.

an artisan making animal figurines

Landscapes and bible stories inspired the decoration

The design of these ceramics beautifully melded Eastern and Western influences. The allure of Chinese porcelain was undeniable, prompting local artisans to recreate popular shapes like the gourd-shaped bottle and kendi. At the same time, there was a keen interest in Western motifs, leading to the creation of figurines such as dogs and cows.

Mustard pots and coffee sets 

were just a part of the extensive array Delft's 'porceleynbakkers' crafted. Through surviving artifacts, archived price lists, and pottery inventories, we gain insight into the diverse products crafted in Delft across the ages. The range included everything from standard dishes and bowls to more unique items like klapmutsen (bowls with flared rims), rolwagens (cylindrical rouleau vases), kwispedoors (spittoons), casbacken (decorative bowls for cabinet tops), and tobacco jars.

The everyday and the ornamental

These pieces were categorized into three main types: everyday utility wares, decorative household items, and purely ornamental objects. Everyday wares, also known as ‘gemeen’ (common) or ‘slegt’ (poor-quality), featured simple designs and were primarily utilized in the kitchen. This category included essentials like plates, bowls, strainers, and mustard pots.
A delftware artisan making tea and coffee sets

Interest in tea and coffee sets has increased.

As tea and coffee drinking became woven into the fabric of society, the demand for corresponding tea and coffee sets surged. Alongside these essentials, other luxury items such as terrines, candlesticks, cruet sets, salt pots, and shakers gained popularity. These items were more than just functional; they were decorative, often featuring exquisite detailing.Items meant purely for display, often termed 'best', played a pivotal role in showcasing social status and enhancing the aesthetics of one’s living space. Typical display arrangements included dishes, vases, and jars strategically placed on room ledges, atop cabinets, mantelpieces, and even above doorways. From the 18th century onward, these ornamental displays often featured animal figurines or the like, including the renowned Delft cows. Potteries offered these decorative items in various styles—plain or ribbed surfaces, with or without loop handles or lids, and in a range of sizes. For instance, a single cupboard set could be available in up to ten distinct variations.


Dutch Delftware, renowned for its unique imitation of Chinese porcelain, evolved significantly through innovative techniques and artistic adaptations. Initially, Delft artisans replicated the delicate, white base of Asian porcelain, popularizing it in Europe with the introduction of tin glaze, which provided a lustrous, comprehensive coating. Over time, Delftware expanded beyond the traditional blue and white to include a wide array of colors, incorporating intricate designs that blended Eastern and Western influences. These designs often featured historical, biblical, and landscape themes reflective of Dutch culture. Delftware served both practical and decorative purposes, ranging from everyday kitchenware to elaborate display pieces that denoted wealth and taste, showcasing the craftsmanship and artistic legacy of Delft potters.


What is the basic appearance of Delftware?

Delftware typically features a white and blue color scheme. This iconic look mimics the styles of Chinese porcelain, which were highly popular in Europe during the 17th century. The designs 
usually include intricate, hand-painted details with scenes from nature, landscapes, or historical and mythological events.

Are there other colors used in Delftware besides blue and white?

Yes, while blue and white are the most traditional and recognized colors in Delftware, other colors such as yellow, green, and red are also used, especially in later pieces. These are often referred to as Polychrome Delftware.

What common forms does Delftware come in?

Delftware is not limited to one form or function; it includes items such as plates, vases, jars, tiles, and ornamental figurines. Each piece serves either a decorative or practical purpose, reflecting the versatility of the Delftware pottery technique.

How can I identify genuine Delftware?

Genuine Delftware is often marked with a factory mark, typically on the bottom of the piece. This mark can include a symbol, initials, or even a name that indicates the origin of the pottery. Familiarity with these marks can help in identifying authentic pieces, although consulting with an expert or relying on a professional appraisal is also advisable for confirmation.

What makes Delftware unique compared to other types of pottery?

Delftware is unique primarily because of its distinctive glaze firing technique and the use of tin-enamel, which gives it a brilliant, glass-like surface. This surface is then elegantly painted with delicate designs, setting it apart from other types of earthenware that typically have more porous and less glossy finishes.