What Is Delftware?

Step into any Dutch souvenir shop, and you'll be greeted with a sea of 'Delft blue' pottery. Much like tulips, clogs, and windmills, this blue-and-white treasure has entrenched itself as an emblem of the Netherlands. However, what many don't realize is that the items lining the shelves aren't necessarily authentic antique Dutch Delftware. True Delftware was crafted in a specific manner, originating from Delft, and typically features the classic blue and white motif, though exceptions do exist.

Discover the quintessential features of Antique Dutch delftware:

  1. Production spanned from around 1620 to 1850.
  2. Originated exclusively in Delft.
  3. Distinctive tin glaze defines its aesthetic.
  4. Pieces may bear identifying marks.
  5. The classic blue and white color scheme is frequently observed.

Delftware emerged during the period spanning 1620 to 1850.

In the early 17th century, the Netherlands saw the arrival of the first ships carrying Chinese porcelain, sparking widespread fascination. Eager to replicate this luxury pottery, Delft artisans embarked on efforts to create convincing imitations.

Chinese porcelain boasted a refined quality owing to its use of kaolin, a fine white clay. However, since kaolin wasn't locally available in the Netherlands, Delft potters devised an alternative approach. They utilized tin glaze, characterized by its opaque white appearance enriched with tin oxide, in crafting "Hollants porceleyn" (Dutch porcelain).

Dutch potters creating delft plates

Delft potters endeavored to craft a high-quality imitation of porcelain.

The technique of tin glazing arrived in the Dutch Republic from the Middle East, passing through Italy and Antwerp before reaching Delft. This method remained prevalent in Delft until approximately 1850. Consequently, items produced during the period from 1620 to 1850 are classified as antique Delftware. Post-1850, a different technique was adopted, leading to the production of what is now termed modern Delftware.

Dutch delftware originated specifically in Delft.

While tin-glazed earthenware, also known as faience, was crafted in other regions of the Netherlands and Europe during its peak, the highest quality pieces were consistently attributed to Delft. To be accurately labeled as Dutch delftware, the item must have been manufactured in Delft. It's important to note that during the late 19th century, there was a resurgence in the popularity of Delftware, leading to instances where manufacturers not based in Delft would still label their products with the word "Delft" on the base.

Dutch delftware is distinguished by its characteristic white glaze.

Crafted from clay prone to turning yellow when fired, the pottery underwent a transformative process. Immersed in a bath of white, opaque tin glaze, the earthenware was then subjected to firing temperatures of approximately 1000 degrees Celsius.

However, this firing process wasn't sufficient to fully integrate the clay and glaze, resulting in a tendency for the glaze to flake off over time. Consequently, slight damage may reveal the underlying yellow hue of the clay, serving as a reliable method for identifying antique Delftware.

A chip on the edge of a delft plate

Chips in the glaze may expose the yellow or red clay beneath.

Similarly, small scars left by triangular pegs on the base or back of the pottery can also reveal the underlying clay. During the firing process, pots were stacked in saggars within the kiln to shield them from flames and smoke. Triangular pegs were employed to separate the items within the saggar, leaving behind minor impressions in the glaze on the base or back of the pot. These distinctive imprints serve as another hallmark of antique faience.

Dutch delftware may feature a mark, although it's not always present.

Dutch delftware occasionally bears one or more marks on the base or back, a practice that became more common from the late 17th century onward. These marks served as a testament to the uniqueness and quality of the pottery, particularly for international trade.

As factories often changed ownership, these marks also provide insight into the timeframe of production. However, it's worth noting that only a limited number of maker's marks have been officially documented, and at least half of the antique Delftware produced never bore a mark. Therefore, the absence of a mark does not necessarily indicate that an item is not Dutch delftware. Here's a comprehensive list encompassing all known Delft and non-Delft marks.

A potter creating a delft plate

A mark served as a guarantee of distinctiveness and quality.

Dutch delftware doesn't always adhere to the blue and white color scheme.

The allure of Dutch delftware extends beyond the traditional blue and white hues. Initially inspired by imported Chinese porcelain, renowned for its blue and white motifs, Dutch delftware embraced this color scheme, propelling it to prominence in Delft.

However, affordability prompted the production of simpler, solely tin-glazed alternatives, boasting a pristine white aesthetic. As time progressed, Dutch delftware diversified, embracing a spectrum of colors in its designs.

For instance, consider the classic Delft plate: while some exemplify the iconic blue and white combination, others boast intricate multicolored patterns, showcasing the evolving artistic expression within Dutch delftware.