At LIGHTSCAPES, Delft to the future

Published:

Tuesday, 5/19/2015 12:55pm

By Elizabeth L. Bradley

One highlight at Van Cortlandt Manor’s LIGHTSCAPES is a giant, luminous, blue-and-white rabbit. This sculpture, the work of artist Cathrin Hoskinson, is no ordinary bunny: it’s an homage to the extensive collection of Delft china found at Van Cortlandt Manor.

Delft china, or “Delftware,” refers to a kind of tin-glazed pottery manufactured in the Netherlands since the 16th century, when the influence of Italian and Spanish artisans began to be felt in Antwerp, Amsterdam, and the city of Delft, where the fine pottery industry took particular hold. The Dutch East India Company’s imports from China influenced many Dutch potters, who began to produce white-glazed earthenware decorated with cobalt blue accents, a color combination familiar to any Ming vase admirer. The production of blue-and-white (or the lesser-known purple-and-white) Delftware increased after the Dutch trading connection to the East was lost in the early 1600s, and soon it became fashionable to adorn Dutch fireplaces with Delft tiles; Dutch dining tables with Delft platters; and Dutch kitchens with Delft jars and jugs. 

Delftware’s appeal was not limited to the Netherlands, either: the pottery was widely exported to Europe and even to the Asian countries that first inspired its creation. It also came across the Atlantic with the Dutch settlers who founded New Netherland and was collected by families such as the Van Cortlandts, who exhibited their dishes and tureens on dining tables and in china cupboards as evidence both of their wealth and their Dutch patriotism.

Delftware in the dining room at Van Cortlandt Manor.Delft fireplace tiles, in particular, came to symbolize Dutch hospitality in the New World. Washington Irving thought so: in Tales of a Traveller, the author used their disappearance as a way to bemoan the lack of poetry among his fellow New Yorkers: “poetry and romance,” he wrote, “… abandoned our hearths when the Dutch tiles were superseded by marble chimney-pieces...” The Delft tiles that most contemporary visitors to LIGHTSCAPES may know best are those with which Charles Dickens adorned the fireplace of Ebenezer Scrooge: “built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.” Fantasy meets Deftware both in literature and on the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor this spring.

Photo Captions:

Top: One of a pair of flowerpots with saucers, Daniel Janszoon Mouroy, Delft, Netherlands, c. 1688. Historic Hudson Valley.
Above: Delft tiles surround the fireplace in the dining room of Van Cortlandt Manor.

 
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