Dutch tin-glazed earthenware, or ‘delftware’, is one of the greatest artistic achievements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Throughout the seventeenth century the Dutch East India Company imported enormous quantities of Chinese blue and white porcelain.
Nevertheless, they were unable to keep up with the demand, so Delft potters began filling the gap in the market by producing tin-glazed earthenware with under-glaze blue decoration, which they successfully marketed as ‘porceleyne’.
The Delft potters became so successful that their products were imitated by manufactories across Europe. At the height of production there were almost forty factories in the small city of Delft, of which The Greek A Pottery, under the direction of Adriaen Kocx and his successors, was one of the most prominent and successful.
The Pyramidal flower vase, c. 1690, comprises a hexagonal base in the form of a columned classical pavilion on claw-and-ball feet, topped with recumbent frogs that support six tiers. Each tier is a water reservoir ornamented with open-mouthed animal-headed spouts, intended to hold a variety of flowers, including tulips and roses.
The blue and white palette was inspired by Chinese porcelain, yet the decoration is a mix of European and Chinese motifs, including frolicking putti, ruyi head elements (a Chinese symbol of good fortune), Chinese characters and birds perched on rocks amid flowering plants, a common decorative motif on seventeenth-century Chinese porcelain. Such extraordinary Baroque confections reflect the great patronage of Queen Mary II towards the Delft potteries and their increasingly exuberant productions.
Queen Mary’s collection of Chinese porcelain numbered almost 8000 pieces, and her ‘chinamania’ inspired the productions of the Delft factories, in particular the pyramidal vases, which became increasingly grander in scale towards the end of the century. Following the patronage of William and Mary, pyramidal flower vases were commissioned by royalty and nobility all over Europe and became symbols of wealth and prestige at the most elite level.
Artwork: De Grieksche A Pottery (Adriaen Kocx) – The Greek A Pottery, Delft (manufacturer) the Netherlands 1687–1701 Pyramidal flower vase c. 1690 earthenware (tin-glazed) (a-g) 97.8 x 29.8 x 26.5 cm (overall) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, NGV Women’s Association, 2014.