Anytime I come upon something like this display of 18th century ceramics in the Rijkmuseum my first reaction is something like “wow”; my second is “I wish Ron were here!” As much as much as I did get a good deal of enjoyment from seeing the “limited” pieces on exhibit from the collection I know I would have have gain so much more with him beside me. Ron is a recognized authority on Chinese Export porcelain and in demand for his talents as a speaker on ceramics in general and the booming trade between the various “East India” companies and China during the 18th and 19th century in particular. And he’s one of those lecturers who makes things come to life, the best sort of lecturer there is. One of the first things I did when I got back to the apartment in Amsterdam was to send him a copy of this photo. It would have been more fun to share it and the other wonders on display with him in person
As I mentioned religious objects were not as prominent in the art of Holland’s Golden Age but that did not mean that they were entirely absent. Any upstanding householder would want to have something on display to both inspire devotion and signal the devoutness of their family. This plate from the late 1600s was one of four by an anonymous artist depicting Biblical scenes (in this case The Entry into Jerusalem). The broad white border acting as a frame clearly indicates it wasn’t meant for the family dinner table but to be hung on the wall for all to see, admire and perhaps even meditate upon.
This violin is also meant only to be decorative. It could be assumed that any sound coming out of it would be less than mellow however it is one of the finest examples of the work being done at Delft at the beginning of the 18th century. Again the painter and modeler are unknown but indications are that it was made between 1705-1710. The front depicts a ballroom or dance hall in the city with couples elegantly dancing while others gossip or just look on. Unfortunately the reverse was not on display but according to the Museum catalogue it shows how country folk in a tavern enjoy the dance as much as their city cousins. I particularly love the antic – almost demonic – head on the scroll, it could almost be singing Dance Dance Dance Little Lady in manic glee as couples whirled around him.
More often than not the painters who worked in Delft – like the creators of the two previous pieces – were unknown however Frederik van Frijtom was a free-lance painter who style was immediately recognizable. He would often sign special pieces and his unique style make even unsigned works recognizable as his. Unlike many of his fellows who painted over the glaze Frijtom did not use the sponge technique which depended on stencils for the initial design. He hand painted scenes of his own creation on the base layer before the glazing was done.
And he painted on the white ground using a unique style – he set out his design with thin contour lines using various shades of blue. He then filled them in and built them up with thousands and thousands of tiny dots. By varying the intensity of the blue he was able to add dimension and depth to his landscapes that were often lacking in that of his contemporaries. His wall plaques were popular with the merchants (and their wives) throughout the Netherlands. This large plaque (62cm x 105cm – 2’x3.5″) is a stunning example of the work Frijtom was known for and is a good indication of why he, unlike so many, was not to remain anonymous.
In the late 16th and 17th centuries a craze for tulips engulfed much of Europe and led to, as difficult as it may be to believe, a financial crises in Holland. The tulip made its initial appearance from Turkey around 1593 and Holland was the main
centre of cultivation and distribution. Tulips became so popular that at the peak of the craze people were trading their entire estates for one bulb. But after the crash in 1634 the price of a bulb was no more than that of the common onion that they so closely resembled. Meanwhile fortunes had been made on speculation then lost when the bubble burst and the depression that followed effected the Dutch economy for several years afterwards. But during the boom (or bloom?) years tulips appeared in all the finest homes and if you were planning to have blooming gold in your home you needed a container worthy of these precious bulbs. Tulip vases became – and stayed even after the crash – all the rage and this pair of six foot tall tulipieres (though created sometime after the crash had wreaked it financial havoc) would have displayed 36 individual blooms each. As beautiful as these may have been gracing the entrance hall of a good burger’s home, investors of the time learned the hard lesson that it is better to stop and smell a flower than stake your fortune on one.
The Dutch East India Company had a lucrative trade with the Chinese and imported millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain in the 17th century. These pieces became popular for their workmanship and detail but were available only to the very wealthy. At first the ceramic studios in Delft did little other than admire the imported items however when trading abruptly halt in 1620 with the end of the Ming Dynasty they began to make copies of Chinese pieces and adapt Chinese designs.
Though I know that Ron would have told me straight off that one was the import and the other the Delft “rip-off” I was hard pressed to tell the difference. The notes in the gallery referred to the top piece as being of Chinese origin – a piece brought in as one of those many during the late part of the 1600s. Not more was given in the way of information.
The bottom piece is from the de Ross factory founded by Arendt Cosijn in 1675 and dates from the period of the 1705-1720. It is attributed to Dammas Hofdijck who also created that intriguing flask I posted about last week. Though the dish gives the appearance of having been made in China the painting is fuller and the surface more lustrous than the Chinese original. The painter used a wider palette of colours including red and black, which given the techniques of the time were difficult to fire.
Though the Delftware is the more colourful my own preference is to the original – perhaps because of its delicacy and muted colours. I may be reading too much into it but the Dutch version seems to cry out “look-at-me” in the spirit of an emerging wealthy merchant class.