The Chinese Impact on Delftware

A chinese selling delft plate products

Chinese Influences on Delftware

In the wake of the introduction of costly Chinese porcelain in the Netherlands, there emerged a need for an appealing yet cost-effective alternative. Amidst the third quarter of the seventeenth century, Delft potters found themselves in a position to upscale the production of finely crafted faience catering to the upscale market segment. This surge was prompted by the restricted import of Asian porcelain by the VOC, owing to the Chinese civil war (1644-1647). To vie with Chinese porcelain effectively, it was imperative for the potters not only to mimic its external appearance but also to faithfully replicate both the exotic forms and the ornamentation of various Chinese stylistic eras.

The Delft potters specialized in three distinct types of Asian-inspired decoration. The first style involved directly imitating Chinese porcelain, following the successive styles of export porcelain. This progression ranged from Kraak porcelain to Transitional porcelain and eventually Kangxi porcelain. For instance, a Delft charger in the Kraak style likely drew inspiration from Chinese porcelain. Kraak-style ornamentation gained widespread popularity in the Netherlands, enduring even after a broader array of Kangxi porcelain became accessible toward the late seventeenth century. Typically, these chargers featured hexagonal or octagonal shapes adorned with river landscapes, where flourishing plants line the banks and various birds—such as ducks or peacocks—strut about. The border consistently featured alternating wide and narrow panels embellished with flowers, Daoist or Buddhist motifs, or symbols of prosperity. Delft potters often injected their own creative flair into these motifs, as seen in dishes where the blue hue is outlined in dark-blue, black, or purple. The craftsmanship of Kraak-style chargers varied, influencing their overall character and quality.

Another particular piece, known as the Delft 'Milk and Blood' charger, drew direct inspiration from a Chinese porcelain plate. The decoration depicts a scene featuring a Chinese man accompanied by his attendant, both holding an umbrella and walking toward a female figure adorned in flowing robes while cradling a child. The cavetto and rim of the charger boast large panels adorned with flowering plants and a fluttering insect. Such porcelain pieces were predominantly favored by the Dutch, with only a handful found elsewhere in Europe, typically originating from the Netherlands. The composition and iconography align with the typical export selection of blue and white Kangxi porcelain from around 1700. Despite the wide array of color variations in East Asian porcelain, this particular style of decoration was produced in limited quantities. In contrast to the Chinese Milk and Blood porcelain ware, Delftware items featuring a similar style of decoration in iron-red and gold are exceedingly rare.

Alongside the direct imitations of Chinese porcelain, Delft potters also delved into personal interpretations known as chinoiserie. Originating in the seventeenth century, this style swiftly gained traction across Europe, maintaining its popularity well into the first half of the eighteenth century. Chinoiserie designs encompass figures, landscapes, architecture, and attributes loosely rendered in a Chinese aesthetic, often intertwined with European stylistic elements. Faience painters typically selected elements deemed most characteristic of the exotic Far East. However faithful these reproductions may appear, the Delftware painter often lacked awareness of the original Chinese significance behind the motifs.

Among the Kangxi style motifs frequently incorporated into Delftware objects were Long Elizas (Lange Lijs) and Zotjes (dancing boys). These motifs adorned various forms of objects, including vases, plates, pots, and others, both in Asian-inspired shapes and European ones, like this large wine cooler. Likely crafted toward the end of the seventeenth century, possibly at the De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory under the ownership of Adrianus Kocx, the decoration features dancing boys, Long Elizas, lotus flowers, and Daoist or Buddhist motifs interspersed with chinoiserie figures. Despite its European function and shape, this object exhibits lion masks grasping an integral ring in their mouths, ball and claw feet, and foliate scrollwork—common motifs found on the most remarkable pieces produced under Adrianus Kocx's tenure. Many objects created during his ownership also feature lambrequins, as evident from the interior of this large wine cooler. In France, the motif was championed by Jean Berain (1640-1711), a designer for the court of King Louis XIV. Berain's style was distinguished by delicate arabesques and fanciful grotesques, stemming from the Renaissance. He famously blended foliage with human and animal forms, foreshadowing the Rococo movement, using light floral patterns. This style was initially embraced by maiolica potteries in Rouen, where the use of lambrequins evolved toward extreme refinement. Later, the French designer Daniel Marot exported Berain's style to the Netherlands when he was commissioned by William III and Mary II to revamp Palace Het Loo after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes.

The two Delftware salt cellars, dating back to around 1690, exemplify the harmonious fusion of Asian stylistic influences into European-shaped objects. Similar to the wine cooler discussed earlier, the combination of these stylistic elements epitomizes the era of Adrianus Kocx's ownership. Modeled after a silver prototype, these salt cellars feature chinoiserie-style decoration with figures set within a landscape of intricately pierced rockwork and pine trees, skillfully adapted to fit the shape of the vessels. Particularly noteworthy are the pseudo-Chinese characters incorporated into the decoration, adding an intriguing visual element.

While Chinese porcelain served as the primary inspiration for Delftware, painters in the late seventeenth century also turned to graphic sources to create continuous scenes reminiscent of Transitional porcelain. Prints and drawings became valuable references during this period. Artists employed a stencil technique, where a paper with holes pricked through the design outlines was used. By applying charcoal over the holes, the basic lines of the desired pattern could be transferred onto the white tin-glaze with ease, facilitating the creation of intricate designs.

These impressive large octagonal bottle vases, dating back to around 1700, feature a captivating continuous scene painted across their surfaces. One side depicts a dignitary standing beneath a parasol held by his attendant, observing two figures seated in a garden. On the other side of the fenced garden, kneeling figures and a Buddha seated on a lotus flower, adorned with a crown and holding a bowl emitting smoke, are portrayed. The intricate decoration on these bottle vases is directly inspired by prints extracted from Olfert Dapper's travelogue titled "Gedenkwaerdig bedryf der Nederlandsche Oost-Indische Maetschappye, op de kuste en in het Keizerrijk van Taising of Sina," which was published in 1670. Olfert Dapper, born in 1636, was a Dutch physician and writer renowned for his extensive ethnographic and geographic research. Although he never ventured beyond his homeland, he dedicated a significant portion of his life to studying various cultures and regions. His travelogue recounts Dutch admiral Balthasar Bort's expeditions along the coast of Fujian and the embassy of Pieter van Hoorn to Beijing, offering detailed insights into Chinese culture and society, often drawing from Jesuit sources. Dapper's work is notable for its lavish illustrations, encompassing a wide array of subjects ranging from plants and traditional attire to Chinese weaponry. Top of Form

Additionally, these vases feature depictions of Buddhist deities, warriors, and other figures, several of which are showcased on this particular pair. The primary decoration on these vases is inspired by an illustration of Buddha found in Olfert Dapper's publication. It's worth noting that interpretations of Chinese figures in many print sources often exhibit a somewhat grotesque appearance, as artists tailored their designs for European audiences. Consequently, these adaptations can be viewed as a form of chinoiserie, wherein Delftware painters incorporated their own interpretations and amalgamated compilations of Chinese figures sourced from various prints to adorn their Delftware objects.