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Delft Blue – a colourful history

The instantly recognisable blue and white pottery known as Delft Blue or Delftware (and called ‘Delfts Blauw’ in Dutch) is synonymous with the Netherlands. And this striking earthenware, whose distinctive designs adorn countless Dutch souvenirs, has enjoyed a long and distinguished history – a history that’s briefly explored below…

Delft Blue 1600 – 1800

During the Dutch Golden Age Chinese porcelain was highly prized, yet only the very wealthiest of Dutch citizens could afford it. As a result, Dutch potters began to produce more affordable, tin glazed pottery. Yet it wasn’t until Italian, Spanish and Portuguese ceramists (who fled the Spanish Inquisition in Antwerp) settled in the Dutch city of Delft, that the manufacture of the more refined Delft Blue variety commenced. Whilst this new Delft Blue pottery closely resembled Chinese porcelain, it was actually made from Dutch clay (instead of standard porcelain clay), which was coated with a white glaze and decorated with religious motifs or traditional Dutch landscapes (often featuring windmills, fishing boats and other typical Dutch icons) using metal oxides. In addition to plates and ornaments the Delft potters also made a large quantity of Delft Blue tiles, many of which have survived in contemporary Dutch kitchens and bathrooms. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries Delft Blue was so sought after that the pottery makers often struggled to keep up with demand. In 1654, when a gunpowder explosion in Delft destroyed several local breweries, they seized the opportunity to acquire the empty premises for the manufacture of Delftware and several even retained the original brewery name, such as ‘The Double Tankard’ and ‘The Three Bells ’. At the peak of its popularity there were some 33 Delft Blue factories manufacturing the favoured pottery products in Delft alone.

Delft Blue today
Delft Blue souvenir
By the end of the eighteenth century, in the face of stiff competition from British porcelain, Delft Blue started to go out of fashion and most of the original potteries closed. Today the only Delft Blue factory that continues to manufacture Delftware according to traditional methods is the acclaimed ‘De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles’ (also known as the Royal Dutch). Of course, Delft Blue is still appreciated by collectors around the world and can be purchased in Dutch shops up and down the country. So, if you’re planning to buy a treasured piece of Delftware, then make sure that it bears the hand painted ‘Delfts Blauw’ brand name as a sign of its authenticity.

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then why not visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants abroad?

One comment on “Delft Blue – a colourful history

  1. Christine
    24/02/2017

    I have a hand painted ashtray of a yacht
    It’s has a crown on the back & a no, it reads
    Refine delft. A crown with the letters WB under it and beside it 1206, then made in Holland, at the bottom Hand Paintrd, How old is this please.

    Regards, Christine.

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