Delft pottery, also called delftware or delft blue, is a soft earthenware pottery sealed with a lead glaze made opaque using ashes or tin oxide. The pottery’s white material is often painted with cobalt-blue designs resembling watercolor art, similar to the look of flow-blue china.
Tin-glazed, multi-colored earthenware was pioneered in Moorish Spain with the style known as majolica, which was soon copied and spread to other parts of Europe. Delftware has its origins in Belgium, possibly brought by the descendant of potter Guido Andries, who emigrated to Antwerp from Italy.
Potters in Antwerp fled Spanish conquerors for the Netherlands in 1585, and partially due to the regional brewing industry’s decline, delftware potteries began booming during the 17th century. Though Dutch clay wasn’t the best, the area was on a highly trafficked international trade route and already home to many talented craftspeople. Since these workshops filled vacant breweries, their names were often derived from beer companies like “The Metal Pot” or “The Double Jug.”
The earliest known potter creating Dutch delftware was Harman Pietersz from Haarlem, who founded a craft guild in Delft in 1611. Other talented potters working in the Delft area included Lambertus van Eenhorn, Louwijs Fictoor, Ghisbrecht Lambrechtsz, Adriaen Pijnacker, Frederick van Frijtom, and Rochus Hoppesteyn.
In the 1660s, the Dutchman John Ariens van Hamme became one of the first potters to create delftware near Lambeth, England, a region that eventually produced other artists like Michael Edkins, Joseph Flower, and John Bowen. Dutch potters often used initials and symbols to mark their products, though English factories typically did not.
Although Delftware potters generally referred to their work as “porceleyn” as it imitated the blue-and-white decor of true Chinese porcelain, the Dutch products were essentially cheap knockoffs. The disruption of Asian imports following Chinese emperor Wanli’s death in 1620 helped local Dutch potters expand their businesses, ultimately providing enough demand for 32 factories in Delft and 12 in nearby Rotterdam.
Ornamental items made from delft pottery included wall pockets, vases, decorative tiles, figurines, candlesticks, and rectangular boxes called bricks. Delftware also encompassed utilitarian objects like squat wine bottles, punch bowls, drinking mugs, tankards, salt holders, food warmers, barber’s bowls, and apothecary jars...
White tiles painted with blue landscapes, often featuring a boat in full sail or a Dutch windmill, are some of the most iconic pieces of delftware. Another popular form was known as a blue-dash charger, which featured flowers, portraits, or biblical scenes at their center surrounded by a band of angled dash marks creating a rope-like pattern encircling the plate’s rim. Though most delftware features colored decor on a white background, some was painted a solid color and then decorated in white, which is referred to as “bianco sopra bianco” or “white on white.”
By the mid-19th century, delftware had fallen out of fashion among wealthy families, and only one original pottery remained. Founded in 1653, de Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, or Royal Dutch, continues to produce blue delftware by traditional methods today.