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Delft

The Dutch city of Delft was the most famous and artistically sophisticated centre of production for tin-glazed earthenware, often known as 'Delftware', in the seventeenth century. Its blue and white glazed pottery, made in imitation of oriental porcelain, was collected by Queen Mary II (1662–94), joint sovereign with William III (1650–1702).

Although referred to in contemporary sources as Delft 'porcelijn', seventeenth-century Delftware was in fact refined earthenware, fired at a much lower temperatures than true porcelain. The secret of porcelain production was known only in China and Japan at this time.  However, the disruption of oriental imports to Europe in the mid-century (due to hostilities in China) gave Dutch makers the opportunity to establish a valuable market in imitations.  By whitening fired clay with a thick glaze they succeeded in producing a milky opacity akin to porcelain, which was then painted in the blue and white oriental style.  Delft manufacturers borrowed the shapes and decorative motifs of Chinese porcelain, but they also experimented with new forms and painted Dutch scenes on their products.

Factories for Delft pottery such as De Metalen Pot (the Metal Pot) or De Griexe A (the Greek 'A') were established in the mid-century, often in disused breweries from which they took their names.   The 'Greek A' factory was founded in 1658 and later bequeathed to Adriaen Kocks (d. 1701), who produced some of the most important Delft pieces now in the Royal Collection.  Queen Mary II (1662–94) was his most significant customer, ordering numerous vessels for her Dutch palaces of Honselaarsdijk and Het Loo, as well as for Hampton Court.  Mary was the daughter of James II (1633–1701) and had arrived in The Hague in 1677 after marrying Prince William of Orange (the future William III).  There, she quickly embraced the Dutch passion for oriental porcelain and pottery.

Many of the Delft vases ordered by Queen Mary for Hampton Court were likely for the 'Delft-Ware Closett' which adjoined the Water Gallery overlooking the Thames. This was probably intended as a retreat for the Queen's use during the rebuilding of the State Apartments. Other Delft vases are described in palace inventories as standing on the hearth, where they would have been used to ornament the fireplace during the spring and summer when fires were not lit.

The Delftware factories produced tableware ranging from bowls to candelabra, as well as ewers, stands and garden urns (see RCIN 1083).  They were nevertheless most famous for their 'flower vases' (sometimes known as 'Tulip vases') which had spouts for fresh cut stems, often stacked to form impressive towers (see RCINs 1084 and 1085).  Queen Mary, who was a great lover of flowers, did much to popularise this form among the Dutch and English nobility.