The Royal Delft Factory was one of my favorite stops on our latest trip to Europe.
Given my love for all things blue and white, this was no surprise!
At the factory, we were given the grand tour – how it’s made, the history, and of course, a chance to own some pieces of Royal Delft. Royal Delft, or the Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, is the only remaining factory of the 32 earthenware factories that were established in the city of Delft during the 17th century. It has been active for more than 350 years, without interruption.
From their website:
Royal Delft is the last remaining earthenware factory from the 17th century. Here the renowned Delft Blue is still entirely hand painted according to centuries-old tradition. At the Royal Delft Experience you will discover the complete history and production process of Royal Delftware. Here, you can feel our painters’ passion during a painting demonstration, admire our Delftware museum collection and wander through the factory where craftsmen are busy producing the products.
A Word About Transferware
It was fascinating to see how these hand-painted masterpieces are made. The craftsmanship is incredible and it doesn’t take long to see that to own a piece of this pottery is to own a work of art. But what about similar designs known as transferware? What is the difference? Is all blue and white hand-painted?
First of all, what is Transferware? Less expensive and less time-consuming, transferware is very common worldwide. Wikipedia describes it here:
Transfer printing is a method of decorating pottery or other materials using an engraved copper or steel plate from which a monochrome print on paper is taken which is then transferred by pressing onto the ceramic piece. Pottery decorated using the technique is known as transferware or transfer ware.
The obvious difference is that Transferware is not hand-painted. Transferware is lovely and highly sought after (I have several different patterns of transferware), but still not as expensive as a piece that has been laboriously hand painted. The Delft factory makes both hand-painted and transferware pieces. The Delft website gives a very good description of the transferware process.
The Royal Delft Experience
Marking the entrance to the factory is this uniquely painted Delft-mobile… isn’t it fun?
Our lovely tour guide took us through the entire process… from pouring to painting and then some. Here she is explaining how to discern an authentic piece of Delftware. A genuine Royal Delft piece can be recognized by the hand painted signature on the bottom of the vase; a jar (or fles), the initials JT intertwined into one monogram, and the word “Delft“ – for the city where it is made. Read more about it HERE.
How did Delftware come to be in the first place? Around the end of the 16th century, tradesmen had introduced gorgeous fine porcelain from China, which rapidly became quite popular among the Dutch. Porcelain was a material previously unknown in the Netherlands, and so the potters attempted to imitate the Oriental products as well as they could with local clay. They succeeded in a relatively short period of time, and shortly after that a large number of factories were founded in the Netherlands, especially in Rotterdam (12) and Delft (32).
How Royal Delft is Made
Here the artist meticulously paints her piece of art. Training to be one of the Royal Delft painters takes about 8 years. Notice that the paint goes on black. After glazing, it is fired, and through a chemical reaction, turns a most beautiful shade of blue!
The handpainted plate before glazing and the final firing:
The decorated pieces are then glazed. Now the vase will be fired in the oven for 24 hours. During the second firing process, which is done at a temperature of 2192 °F, the glaze melts into a translucent layer of glass and the black paint turns blue. Here is a Royal Delft plate I recently acquired:
We saw this extensive collection of Delft Christmas plates. A new one is produced each year. Can you imagine the value of this collection?
Also worthy of note are the entire walls made up of tile works of art, such as a replica of Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’.
This is inside the gift shop, where one has an opportunity to purchase these works of art. The large vase pictured below sells for €7,999 (euro), which equals US$9296.84 at today’s exchange rate! The plate on the bottom left is €665.00, while the plate on the right is in the €169 – €285 range.
I consider myself very fortunate to own my one little plate of Royal Delft!
If you ever get the chance to tour the factory while in Holland, be sure and do so… you won’t regret it!
See you next time!