A brief history of Delft Blue a.k.a. Delfts Blauw
You may have seen small pieces of Dutch pottery displaying the typical white and blue colours in tourist shops, amongst other shops, but do you know where this pottery originated?
What is Delft Blue?
Delft Blue is a type of pottery which is made in the Dutch city of, you guessed it, Delft. The production of Delft Blue started in the 17th century and it is still being made today. In the early days of Delft Blue, potters began by making the traditional Delftware using clay. This clay was then baked before a tin glaze was added. Figures where then painted onto the glazed clay using crushed oxides, and then it was fired again. It was in the second baking stage that the paintings got their Delft Blue colour.
When potters in Antwerp fled from the Spanish Inquisition and settled in Delft, the manufacturing of Delft Blue pottery became more refined. The choice of clay changed and it was dipped in a white glaze. The Delft Blue style was used to make ornaments, plates, and also tiles.
Inspiration for Delft Blue
Delft Blue was hugely popular between 1600 and 1800 AD, and it got its inspiration from Chinese porcelain. During the 17th century, with the Dutch Golden Age in full swing, all things Eastern were sought after and the Dutch East India Company (VOC) began bringing back porcelain items.
One of the other things the VOC brought back was tea. But the Dutch did not have the right vessels to drink it out of, so potters in Delft started making teapots and cups. Following their imitation of the Chinese, they painted their pieces in a "Chinese" style.
Chinese porcelain was highly revered; however, only the richest in society could afford it. This is why the Dutch started making Delft Blue pieces with clay and a tin glaze, which they later adapted.
During the Delft Blue craze, the pottery style took on a form of its own and potters started painting typical Dutch scenes and objects, such as windmills and tulips, onto the earthenware pieces. At the peak of Delft Blue, there were 33 factories manufacturing Delftware in Delft alone.
All good things come to an end
At the end of the 18th century, Delftware started to go out of fashion and many factories closed their doors for good. Only one Delftware manufacturer remains; Royal Delft (Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles), and they have been producing Delft Blue since 1653.
In 1876, Joost Thooft took over the factory and improved the production process resulting in a more high-quality product. He added his initials to the bottom of each piece of work. To this day, the initials JT are still hand painted onto every Royal Delft product, which makes it easier to differentiate the real pieces from the fakes.
The production method Joost introduced is still used today and is as follows:
- The clay is made from around 10 raw materials, which include kaolin, chalk, feldspar and quartz, and are mixed with water until they form a liquid.
- The liquid is poured into plaster moulds which consist of several pieces. The plaster absorbs the water from the clay, leaving a dry layer on the inside of the mould. When the clay is thick enough, the excess clay in the mould is poured away.
- The clay air-dries until it is hard enough to be taken out of the mould and after further drying, irregularities are removed.
- The piece of pottery then receives a special layer of engobe (liquid clay) and goes into the kiln for its first round of firing.
- Delftware painters, who have trained for 8 years or more, hand paint the pottery with a black paint containing cobalt oxide, using brushes made from squirrel or marten hair. Shades of blue are created by adding more or less water to the paint, and the blue colour results from a chemical reaction which takes place during the second round of firing.
- Pieces are then covered in a white glaze which melts into a translucent layer of glass during firing. During the second firing, the chemical reaction between the clay, engobe, paint and glaze is imperative to the resulting Delft Blue colour.
- In the last stage of production, all pieces go through a quality check.
Take an inside look into Royal Delft: