Credit: Royal Delft

Glorious Delft Blue

The Dutch Golden Age was a period like no other and Delft was the city to be at that time. The moment you walk around its centuries-old canals in the historic city center, you feel the Golden Age, when Johannes Vermeer lived in the city and painted “The Girl with the Pearl Earring”, and when the first ships of the Dutch East India Company arrived from the Far East, filled with blue and white porcelain over 400 years ago.

This year, Delft is celebrating the Golden Age and at Royal Delft, visitors can discover the Delft Blue glory and grandeur of this period. With an exhibition called Glorious Delft Blue, the factory and museum links the design of the Golden Age to contemporary styles.

European Nobility

The history of the Delft Blue style of pottery is a fantastic example for Holland’s fortunes in the Golden Age. It was originally created as a more affordable alternative to the blue-and-white porcelain from China, which was immensely popular with wealthy families and the European nobility. When the import of Chinese porcelain decreased due to civil wars in China, the enterprising Dutch seized their chance and developed their own variant. Its popularity soared and in its heyday, between 1650 and 1750, hundreds of potteries were active in the city.

Like the gorgeous portrait of a woman with a delft blue design on her back, a modern fine woven art work of Flemish artisanship that fits perfectly with the Golden Age interior of a Dutch house. Or the showcase of Royal Delft’s famous tulip pyramid, surrounded by tulips and bitcoins.

Delft Blue pattern clothes designed by Tess van Zalinge

Tulip Mania

The tulips, like the bitcoins now, represented the first speculative bubble in history, Tourism Manager Qing Marr-Li explains to hiEurope. Tulips came to Holland in 1593 when a botanist discovered that they could stand the harsh climate of the Low Countries. They were different from every other flower known to Europe at that time, with an intense petal color that no other plant had. Soon owning the bright flower became a status symbol. At the peak of tulip mania, the most coveted bulbs were worth more than a hundred times their weight in gold.

Tulip prices eventually crashed but the Dutch remained enchanted by flowers. Royals loved designing botanical gardens and to display their flowers, they collected innovative Delftware vases to display the most precious garden species. The spouted vases, with the pyramidal flower holder became an iconic form.

One famous collector was Mary Stuart II, the wife of Dutch William III of Orange. The English Mary was a great admirer of Delft Blue and the design of her porcelain rooms spread across Europe. The VOC would set aside the finest pieces for the royals, and soon Mary filled her residences in Holland and England with the pottery and was to become the patron saint of Dutch Delftware. In England, Mary had her own pavilion, the Water Gallery, where much of her Delft Blue pieces were displayed. No wonder Royal Delft designed a cute contemporary Delft blue figurine called “Proud Mary.”

Royal Delft Iconic Flowerbasket Plate

Dutch Masters

The Golden Age was also the time of Rembrandt and Vermeer – famous masters who thrived under the patronage of the rich merchants of Holland. This year, many of Rembrandt’s paintings are part of special Golden Age exhibitions. For this occasion, the giant Night Watch done in Delft Blue tiles, that takes up the whole wall of the showroom at Royal Delft, has been contrasted by modern photography portraits by Marie Cecile Thijs. These subjects – often children and cats – are ‘wearing’ an actual 17th-century antique ruff from the collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Since this collar is very delicate and rare, it was photographed by Thijs separately and under special conditions at the Rijksmuseum. The subjects are pictured against the same kind of dark backgrounds as the old masters portrayed their famous subjects, making them fit perfectly.

In the end, you also understand how Delftware influenced modern design, including the clothing collection by Tess van Zalinge, who collaborated with Royal Delft for the 2017 Amsterdam Fashion Week. "Royal Delft still makes their porcelain by hand and when I saw the Master painters at work in the atelier of the museum, I knew I wanted to collaborate with them,” she said. The result was a stunning collection in blue and white patterns, some of which are now on show at Royal Delft.

The article was reproduced with permission from