Last updated
Vase in a Japanese style, c. 1680, Delft Vase, c. 1680, Delft, Netherlands, tin-glazed earthenware - Art Institute of Chicago - DSC09979.JPG
Vase in a Japanese style, c. 1680, Delft
Window display of Delftware in the market place, Delft Delftware display.JPG
Window display of Delftware in the market place, Delft

Delftware or Delft pottery, also known as Delft Blue [1] (Dutch : Delfts blauw), is a general term now used for Dutch tin-glazed earthenware, a form of faience. Most of it is blue and white pottery, and the city of Delft in the Netherlands was the major centre of production, but the term covers wares with other colours, and made elsewhere. It is also used for similar pottery, English delftware.


Delftware is one of the types of tin-glazed earthenware or faience in which a white glaze is applied, usually decorated with metal oxides, in particular the cobalt oxide that gives the usual blue, and can withstand high firing temperatures, allowing it to be applied under the glaze. It also forms part of the worldwide family of blue and white pottery, using variations of the plant-based decoration first developed in 14th-century Chinese porcelain, and in great demand in Europe.

Delftware includes pottery objects of all descriptions such plates, vases, figurines and other ornamental forms and tiles. The start of the style was around 1600, and the most highly regarded period of production is about 1640–1740, but Delftware continues to be produced. In the 17th and 18th centuries Delftware was a major industry, exporting all over Europe.


The earliest tin-glazed pottery in the Netherlands was made in Antwerp where the Italian potter Guido da Savino settled in 1500, [2] and in the 16th century Italian maiolica was the main influence on decorative styles. [3] The manufacture of painted pottery spread from Antwerp to the northern Netherlands, in particular because of the sack of Antwerp by the Spanish troops in 1576 (the Spanish Fury ). Production developed in Middelburg and Haarlem in the 1570s and in Amsterdam in the 1580s. [4] Much of the finer work was produced in Delft, but simple everyday tin-glazed pottery was made in places such as Gouda, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Amsterdam and Dordrecht. [5]

"Armorial Dish" (wapenbord) by Willem Jansz. Verstraeten, c. 1645-1655, Haarlem Willem Jansz. Verstraeten - Scotel met onbekende wapen BK-NM-14179.jpg
"Armorial Dish" (wapenbord) by Willem Jansz. Verstraeten, c. 1645-1655, Haarlem

The main period of tin-glaze pottery in the Netherlands was 1640–1740. From about 1640 Delft potters began using personal monograms and distinctive factory marks. The Guild of St Luke, to which painters in all media had to belong, admitted ten master potters in the thirty years between 1610 and 1640, and twenty in the nine years 1651 to 1660. In 1654 a gunpowder explosion in Delft destroyed many breweries and as the brewing industry was in decline, they became available to pottery makers looking for larger premises; some retained the old brewery names, e.g. The Double Tankard, The Young Moors' Head, and The Three Bells. [6]

The use of marl, a type of clay rich in calcium compounds, allowed the Dutch potters to refine their technique and to make finer items. The usual clay body of Delftware was a blend of three clays, one local, one from Tournai and one from the Rhineland. [7]

From about 1615, the potters began to coat their pots completely in white tin glaze instead of covering only the painting surface and coating the rest with clear ceramic glaze. They then began to cover the tin-glaze with clear glaze, which gave depth to the fired surface and smoothness to cobalt blues, ultimately creating a good resemblance to porcelain. [8]

18th century Delftware, the plate at left with a Japanese scene DelftChina18thCenturyCompanieDesIndes.jpg
18th century Delftware, the plate at left with a Japanese scene

During the Dutch Golden Age, the Dutch East India Company had a lively trade with the East and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the early 17th century. [9] The Chinese workmanship and attention to detail impressed many. Only the richest could afford the early imports. Dutch potters did not immediately imitate Chinese porcelain; they began to do so after the death of the Wanli Emperor in 1620, when the supply to Europe was interrupted. [8] "Potters now saw an opportunity to produce a cheap 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." [10]

Delftware inspired by Chinese originals persisted from about 1630 to the mid-18th century alongside European patterns. Around 1700 several factories were using enamel colours and gilding over the tin-glaze, requiring a third kiln firing at a lower temperature. Later, after Japanese Imari ware had become popular in the late 1600s and early 1700s (when it too tried to fill the gap of the Chinese shortage), Delft began making their own 'Imari ware' copying the classic 'flower vase on a terrace surrounded by three panels with cranes and pine design'. Oriental styles in Delftware remained popular into the early 1700s but then declined when Chinese porcelain became available again. [11]

Delftware 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, the kast-stel set. Pictorial plates were made in abundance, illustrated with religious motifs, native Dutch scenes with windmills and fishing boats, hunting scenes, landscapes and seascapes. Sets of plates were made with the words and music of songs; dessert was served on them and when the plates were clear the company started singing. [12] The Delft potters also made tiles in vast numbers (estimated at eight hundred million [13] ) over a period of two hundred years; many Dutch houses still have tiles that were fixed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Delftware became popular and was widely exported in Europe and even reached China and Japan. Chinese and Japanese potters made porcelain versions of Delftware for export to Europe.

Some regard Delftware from about 1750 onwards as artistically inferior. Caiger-Smith says that most of the later wares "were painted with clever, ephemeral decoration. Little trace of feeling or originality remained to be lamented when, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Delftware potteries began to go out of business." [14] By this time Delftware potters had lost their market to British porcelain and the new white earthenware. One or two remain: the Tichelaar [15] factory in Makkum, Friesland, founded in 1594 and De Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles ("The Royal Porcelain Bottle") founded in 1653.

Today, Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue) is the brand name hand painted on the bottom of ceramic pieces identifying them as authentic and collectible. Although most Delft Blue borrows from the tin-glaze tradition, it is nearly all decorated in underglaze blue on a white clay body and very little uses tin glaze, a more expensive product. The Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum factory in Makkum, Friesland continue the production of tin-glazed earthenware. [16] [17]

Delft Blue pottery formed the basis of one of British Airways' ethnic tailfins. The design, Delftblue Daybreak, was applied to 17 aircraft.

See also

Related Research Articles

Earthenware Nonvitreous pottery

Earthenware is glazed or unglazed nonvitreous pottery that has normally been fired below 1,200 °C (2,190 °F). Basic earthenware, often called terracotta, absorbs liquids such as water. However, earthenware can be made impervious to liquids by coating it with a ceramic glaze, which the great majority of modern domestic earthenware has. The main other important types of pottery are porcelain, bone china, and stoneware, all fired at high enough temperatures to vitrify.

Faience Tin-glazed pottery

Faience or faïence is the general English language term for fine tin-glazed pottery. The invention of a white pottery glaze suitable for painted decoration, by the addition of an oxide of tin to the slip of a lead glaze, was a major advance in the history of pottery. The invention seems to have been made in Iran or the Middle East before the ninth century. A kiln capable of producing temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C (1,830 °F) was required to achieve this result, the result of millennia of refined pottery-making traditions. The term is now used for a wide variety of pottery from several parts of the world, including many types of European painted wares, often produced as cheaper versions of porcelain styles.

English delftware Tin-glazed pottery

English delftware is tin-glazed pottery made in the British Isles between about 1550 and the late 18th century. The main centres of production were London, Bristol and Liverpool with smaller centres at Wincanton, Glasgow and Dublin. English tin-glazed pottery was called "galleyware" or "galliware" and its makers "gallypotters" until the early 18th century; it was given the name delftware after the tin-glazed pottery from the Netherlands,

Blue and white pottery Vases

"Blue and white pottery" covers a wide range of white pottery and porcelain decorated under the glaze with a blue pigment, generally cobalt oxide. The decoration is commonly applied by hand, originally by brush painting, but nowadays by stencilling or by transfer-printing, though other methods of application have also been used. The cobalt pigment is one of the very few that can withstand the highest firing temperatures that are required, in particular for porcelain, which partly accounts for its long-lasting popularity. Historically, many other colours required overglaze decoration and then a second firing at a lower temperature to fix that.

Islamic pottery

Medieval Islamic pottery occupied a geographical position between Chinese ceramics, the unchallenged leaders of Eurasian production, and the pottery of the Byzantine Empire and Europe. For most of the period it can fairly be said to have been between the two in terms of aesthetic achievement and influence as well, borrowing from China and exporting to and influencing Byzantium and Europe. The use of drinking and eating vessels in gold and silver, the ideal in ancient Rome and Persia as well as medieval Christian societies, is prohibited by the Hadiths, with the result that pottery and glass were used for tableware by Muslim elites, as pottery also was in China but was much rarer in Europe and Byzantium. In the same way, Islamic restrictions greatly discouraged figurative wall-painting, encouraging the architectural use of schemes of decorative and often geometrically-patterned titles, which are the most distinctive and original specialty of Islamic ceramics.

Maiolica Renaissance-era Italian tin-glazed pottery

Maiolica is tin-glazed pottery decorated in colours on a white background. Italian maiolica dating from the Renaissance period is the most renowned. When depicting historical and mythical scenes, these works were known as istoriato wares. By the late 15th century, multiple locations, mainly in northern and central Italy, were producing sophisticated pieces for a luxury market in Italy and beyond. In France maiolica developed as faience, in the Netherlands and England as delftware, and in Spain as talavera. In English the spelling was anglicised to majolica but the pronunciation usually preserved the vowel with an i as in kite.

Hispano-Moresque ware Ceramics of AlÁndalus

Hispano-Moresque ware is a style of initially Islamic pottery created in Al Andalus or Muslim Spain, which continued to be produced under Christian rule in styles blending Islamic and European elements. It was the most elaborate and luxurious pottery being produced in Europe until the Italian maiolica industry developed sophisticated styles in the 15th century, and was exported over most of Europe. The industry's most successful period was the 14th and 15th centuries.


Underglaze is a method of decorating pottery in which painted decoration is applied to the surface before it is covered with a transparent ceramic glaze and fired in a kiln. Because the glaze subsequently covers it, such decoration is completely durable, and it also allows the production of pottery with a surface that has a uniform sheen. Underglaze decoration uses pigments derived from oxides which fuse with the glaze when the piece is fired in a kiln. It is also a cheaper method, as only a single firing is needed, whereas overglaze decoration requires a second firing at a lower temperature.


Tin-glazing is the process of giving tin-glazed pottery items a ceramic glaze that is white, glossy and opaque, which is normally applied to red or buff earthenware. Tin-glaze is plain lead glaze with a small amount of tin oxide added. The opacity and whiteness of tin glaze encourage its frequent decoration. Historically this has mostly been done before the single firing, when the colours blend into the glaze, but since the 17th century also using overglaze enamels, with a light second firing, allowing a wider range of colours. Majolica, maiolica, delftware and faience are among the terms used for common types of tin-glazed pottery.

Mintons English pottery company (1793–2005)

Mintons was a major company in Staffordshire pottery, "Europe's leading ceramic factory during the Victorian era", an independent business from 1793 to 1968. It was a leader in ceramic design, working in a number of different ceramic bodies, decorative techniques, and "a glorious pot-pourri of styles - Rococo shapes with Oriental motifs, Classical shapes with Medieval designs and Art Nouveau borders were among the many wonderful concoctions". As well as pottery vessels and sculptures, the firm was a leading manufacturer of tiles and other architectural ceramics, producing work for both the Houses of Parliament and United States Capitol.

Ceramic glaze Fused coating on ceramic objects

Ceramic glaze is an impervious layer or coating of a vitreous substance which has been fused to a pottery body through firing. Glaze can serve to color, decorate or waterproof an item. Glazing renders earthenware vessels suitable for holding liquids, sealing the inherent porosity of unglazed biscuit earthenware. It also gives a tougher surface. Glaze is also used on stoneware and porcelain. In addition to their functionality, glazes can form a variety of surface finishes, including degrees of glossy or matte finish and color. Glazes may also enhance the underlying design or texture either unmodified or inscribed, carved or painted.

Alan Caiger-Smith British potter (1930–2020)

Alan Caiger-Smith MBE was a British studio potter and writer on pottery.

This is a list of pottery and ceramic terms.

Tin-glazed pottery Pottery covered in glaze containing tin oxide

Tin-glazed pottery is earthenware covered in lead glaze with added tin oxide which is white, shiny and opaque ; usually this provides a background for brightly painted decoration. It has been important in Islamic and European pottery, but very little used in East Asia. The pottery body is usually made of red or buff-colored earthenware and the white glaze imitated Chinese porcelain. The decoration on tin-glazed pottery is usually applied to the unfired glaze surface by brush with metallic oxides, commonly cobalt oxide, copper oxide, iron oxide, manganese dioxide and antimony oxide. The makers of Italian tin-glazed pottery from the late Renaissance blended oxides to produce detailed and realistic polychrome paintings.

Royal Tichelaar Makkum

Royal Tichelaar Makkum is a Dutch pottery company in Makkum. After initially producing bricks and later pottery and tiles, the company has focused on traditional decorative pottery since 1890. As the company in Makkum has always made ceramics, Royal Tichelaar Makkum is regarded as one of the oldest companies in the Netherlands. The Royal Tichelaar Makkum has always specialized in stoneware and earthernware, and started making porcelain from 1999. The first Dutch porcelain dates to 1759, with the advent of Weesp porcelain.


Gzhel is a Russian style of blue and white ceramics which takes its name from the village of Gzhel and surrounding area, where it has been produced since 1802.

Art pottery

Art pottery is a term for pottery with artistic aspirations, made in relatively small quantities, mostly between about 1870 and 1930. Typically, sets of the usual tableware items are excluded from the term; instead the objects produced are mostly decorative vessels such as vases, jugs, bowls and the like which are sold singly. The term originated in the later 19th century, and is usually used only for pottery produced from that period onwards. It tends to be used for ceramics produced in factory conditions, but in relatively small quantities, using skilled workers, with at the least close supervision by a designer or some sort of artistic director. Studio pottery is a step up, supposed to be produced in even smaller quantities, with the hands-on participation of an artist-potter, who often performs all or most of the production stages. But the use of both terms can be elastic. Ceramic art is often a much wider term, covering all pottery that comes within the scope of art history, but "ceramic artist" is often used for hands-on artist potters in studio pottery.

Nevers faience Pottery made in Nevers, France, since 1580

The city of Nevers, Nièvre, now in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in central France, was a centre for manufacturing faience, or tin-glazed earthenware pottery, between around 1580 and the early 19th century. Production of Nevers faience then gradually died down to a single factory, before a revival in the 1880s. In 2017, there were still two potteries making it in the city, after a third had closed. However the quality and prestige of the wares has gradually declined, from a fashionable luxury product for the court, to a traditional regional speciality using styles derived from the past.

Ceramic art Decorative objects made from clay and other raw materials by the process of pottery

Ceramic art is art made from ceramic materials, including clay. It may take forms including artistic pottery, including tableware, tiles, figurines and other sculpture. As one of the plastic arts, ceramic art is one of the visual arts. While some ceramics are considered fine art, as pottery or sculpture, most are considered to be decorative, industrial or applied art objects. Ceramics may also be considered artefacts in archaeology. Ceramic art can be made by one person or by a group of people. In a pottery or ceramic factory, a group of people design, manufacture and decorate the art ware. Products from a pottery are sometimes referred to as "art pottery". In a one-person pottery studio, ceramists or potters produce studio pottery.

Willem Jansz Verstraeten was a Dutch Golden Age tin-glazed maiolica maker in Haarlem.


  1. Delft Blue,
  2. La Céramique anversoise de la Renaissance, de Venise à Delft, Claire Dumortier, Anthèse, Paris, 1997
  3. Savage, 157
  4. Caiger-Smith, Alan, Tin-Glaze Pottery in Europe and the Islamic World: The Tradition of 1000 Years in Maiolica, Faience and Delftware (Faber and Faber, 1973 ISBN   0-571-09349-3, p. 127
  5. Caiger-Smith, p. 131
  6. Caiger-Smith pp. 130–131
  7. Caiger-Smith, p. 130
  8. 1 2 Caiger-Smith, p. 129
  9. Volker, T. Porcelain and the Dutch East India Company, 1602–1683, Leiden, 1955) p. 22.
  10. Christiaan Jörg, "Oriental Export Porcelain and Delftware in the Groningen Museum" in Ceramics Crossed Overseas: Jingdezhen, Imari and Delft from the collection of the Groningen Museum. An exhibition catalogue in collaboration with the Groninger Museum, Kyushu Ceramic Museum, Japan Airlines, 1999-2000, p. 10.
  11. Christiaan Jörg, pp. 10-11.
  12. Caiger-Smith, p. 136.
  13. Caiger-Smith, p. 137 n. 21
  14. Caiger-Smith, p. 140
  16. Klei/Glas/Keram. 13, No.4, 1992. Pg.103-106
  17. "Koninklijke Tichelaar Makkum". Retrieved 2012-02-22.


Video on an exhibition of Delftware in Haarlem, Netherlands, October 1958