Royal Delft has embraced the craft of making and reinventing Delft Blue for 365 years, and it is celebrating this with yet another piece of art. This year, one visitor a day at the Royal Delft Experience is asked to paint part of a unique tile painting. These 365 people from all over the world will unite in one piece of Royal Delft history.

The Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, which is the factory name of the Royal Delft brand, is the only remaining producer of the 32 earthenware factories that were established in Delft during the 17th century. Its founder, David Anthonisz van der Pieth, started it in 1653 when he transformed his house into an earthenware factory.

Chinese porcelain

Over the centuries, Delft Blue reinvented itself many times. It all started during the Dutch Golden Age, when the Dutch East India Company had a lively trade with the East and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain. But after the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620, the supply to Europe was interrupted. Potters now saw an opportunity to produce an alternative for Chinese porcelain.

After much experimenting they managed to make a thin type of earthenware which was covered with a white tin glaze. Although made of low-fired earthenware, it resembled porcelain amazingly well. While much of the finer work was produced in Delft, simple everyday tin-glazed pottery was made in places such as Gouda, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Dordrecht. Delftware inspired by Chinese originals persisted to the mid-18th century alongside European patterns.

Landscapes and Seascapes

When Chinese porcelain became available again, the Dutch artists began swapping out the Chinese motifs of pagodas, dragons and elephants for windmills, tulips and cows. The earthenware ranged from simple household items – plain white earthenware with little or no decoration – to fancy artwork. Most of the Delft factories made sets of jars, to display on the main cupboard in the living room. Pictorial plates were also made in abundance, illustrated with religious motifs, native Dutch scenes with windmills and fishing boats, hunting scenes, landscapes and seascapes. Some sets of plates had the words and music of songs, which diners would sing after they had finished eating the food.

The Delft potters also made an estimated eight hundred million tiles over a period of two hundred years. Many old Dutch houses still have tiles that were produced in Delft in the 17th and 18th centuries.

All the Rage Once Again

Over the years, the popularity of the products fluctuated, and by the 19th century, the Porceleyne Fles was the last factory standing. There was competition from the English Wedgwood and other European porcelain makers, but Joost Thooft bought the factory in 1876 and revived the production of Delft Blue. Understanding that the new generation of customers no longer craved the older, fragile earthenware, he changed the technique and created a mixture of clay that resembled the stronger, white English earthenware. The results were arresting and modern, and the porcelain went on to obtain worldwide fame.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the company was awarded the Royal title in its name, which is a sign of appreciation by the Royal family for the contribution of the company to the Dutch Delft Blue industry.

In recent years, Royal Delft is all the rage again. Contemporary designers help to produce modern lines of hand painted earthenware, which fit into young people’s homes around the world. No more grandmother patterns here, but ‘contemporary nostalgia’ of white with a smattering of exquisite blue floral and fauna design motifs, delicate yet contemporary. There is even a line of Royal Delft-inspired wallpaper and fabrics, as the historical hues of white and blue are, once again.

To celebrate its anniversary, the exhibition “Nouveau Blue: Vision to Realization” about the history of the factory, will be on show at Royal Delft from 28 March – 30 September.

The article was reproduced with permission from