A 17th-century flower holder

A flower holder with a touch of ‘Orange

The Netherlands and flowers are synonymous in people’s minds. In spring, countless tourists come to the bulb-growing region to admire the beautiful multicoloured fields. It is no coincidence that Princess Beatrix is the patroness of the Royal Society for Gardening and Botany. Our Oranges have green fingers. That is also evident from this seventeenth-century flower holder.
Stadtholder William III of Orange and his wife Princess Mary Stuart II were Delft Blue aficionados. During their stay at Paleis ‘t Loo from 1677 to 1688 they ordered many pieces from the Delftware factories, including flower holders like this example. The many shards that have been found in the palace gardens confirm this. Mary II loved flowers and plants, and these holders were specially designed to showcase the blooms. In those days tulips, carnations, auricles, anemones and ranunculus were popular.

Flower holder, ca. 1690, De Metaale Pot, Delft, earthenware, h. 61 cm, on loan from the Ottema-Kingma Stichting, made possible by the Rembrandt Society.

Flower holder, ca. 1690, De Metaale Pot, Delft, earthenware, h. 61 cm, on loan from the Ottema-Kingma Stichting, made possible by the Rembrandt Society.
Click on the image for an enlargement.

Flower holders in all shapes and sizes were made in this period by the Delftware factories De Grieksche A, De Drie Vergulde Astonnekes and De Metaale Pot. Mary II played an important role in their popularity. The flower holder from the Princessehof’s collection illustrated here was made at De Metaale Pot. It is often difficult to ascertain where a particular piece was produced. Fortunately, that is not the case with this object, because the letters ‘LC’ are on the base. These are the initials of Lambertus Cleffius, who owned De Metaale Pot from 1680 to 1691. This proves that this flower holder was made in this period.

In the seventeenth century, blue-and-white porcelain from China became enormously popular. VOC ships transported huge quantities of it to the Netherlands. The potters in Delft nimbly jumped onto the bandwagon and copied the Chinese motifs on their own wares. The birds and stylised rocks on the belly of this flower holder and the cloud motif low down on the foot are good examples of this. The tulips on the cover are also a motif characteristic of Chinese porcelain from the late Ming dynasty, which ended in 1644.

Only a few of these flower holders are known in Dutch collections. It is also remarkable that Lambertus Cleffius’ mark appears on the holder. The first flower holders were probably made around 1670, which makes the Princessehof example an early specimen.

Not only tulips

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century flower holders are often called tulip vases, but that is actually a misnomer. Sometimes they are also associated with the tulip mania of the , when the prices of tulip bulbs skyrocketed to unprecedented heights. However, this boom in the tulip trade occurred 50 years before the emergence of the first Delft flower holders. These spouted vases dating from the time of William and Mary were certainly not only used for tulips, but for all kinds of colourful flowers.

Eline van den Berg, curator Asian ceramics at the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics



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