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An extraordinary pair of Delftware flower vases sold at Sotheby's Paris
An exceptional pair of blue and white segmented flower pyramids from the late seventeenth century was sold from the collection of Count De Ribes for €1.069.000 or almost $1,2 million, exceeding their €150.000 - €250.000.

AMSTERDAM.- Wednesday evening December 11, 2019 will go into the Delftware history books. During the exciting evening in Paris, France, an exceptional pair of blue and white segmented flower pyramids from the late seventeenth century was sold from the collection of Count De Ribes for €1.069.000 or almost $1,2 million, exceeding their €150.000 - €250.000 estimate by several times. The pair hadn’t been on public view since an exhibition named ‘Le Cabinet de l’Amateur’ organized by the friends of the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1956.

“Although I understand it is a lot of money, it is actually a very good buy at this price” says Robert Aronson, proprietor of Amsterdam based Delftware specialists Aronson Antiquairs. “This is the most spectacular Delftware pair of flower pyramids to come to market in a long time. In 2016 we presented a superb pair which was purchased by a private collector, but this pair transcends those in size and provenance.” As Aronson explains it is not only for the quality and size of the current works, it is for a large part also the pristine provenance that makes this pair truly one of the Delftware highlights. “I congratulate the new owners with this pair as they can now almost literally and in an uninterrupted lineage shake hands with French King Louis XIV (1643-1715), making it highly likely that these vases went directly from the city of Delft to the French Royal Court at the end of the seventeenth century.”

It was in the late seventeenth century, under the patronage of Queen Mary II, who was as passionate about Chinese blue and white porcelain and its local counterpart, Dutch Delftware, as she was about her gardens, that the Delft factories developed their technical skills and virtuosity in the production of all sorts of ’vases with spouts’ to display flowers. Inspired by Queen Mary, it also became fashionable in aristocratic circles to decorate their residences with vases full of flowers. For instance, large vases were used to decorate the fireplace in the summer, and smaller vases were placed on the table during a festive meal. Although the vases in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were filled with all varieties of cut flowers, there has been much misunderstanding about this. In the mid-nineteenth century, when collectors and art historians rediscovered Delft earthenware, they must have thought that the vases were intended to be filled with hyacinth bulbs or flowers, as they came to be known as ‘bouquetiers à Jacinthes’. Not long thereafter, however, a more familiar name came into fashion, which is still used today: ‘tulip vase’ or ‘tulipière’, ascribed to these vases on the revised supposition that they were intended specifically to hold the precious and popular tulips.

Around the year 1700 there were over thirty potteries in operation in Delft, of which at least five produced vases with holes and spouts, as their makers’ marks indicate. Among them, De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory had been producing flower vases as early as circa 1680, although these early examples were more modest in size than those made for King William III and Queen Mary one and two decades later. De Grieksche A, together with De Metaale Pot (The Metal Pot) factory, created the largest output of flower vases, and over a period of sixty years, from 1680 to 1740, they sold a multitude of different types of vases with spouts and holes. But in this production, they were joined by Het Jonge Moriaanshooft (The Young Moor’s Head), De Drie Posteleyne Astonne (The Three Porcelain Ash Barrels) and De Witte Ster (The White Star) factories, which during this period also made outstanding flower vases.

In their constant search for innovation and for expansion of their range, around 1680 the Delft potters began to develop new forms of vases. The most common types were table vases in the form of tureens and baskets, or stacks of round basins. But far rarer and more extravagant were the so-called ‘flower pyramids’, or as they were called in the seventeenth century, ‘flowerpots with pipes’. These monumental obelisk-shaped vases, which consisted of four or more spouted spheres of decreasing size stacked on top of one another, were predominantly made for the Dutch and English courts of King William III and Queen Mary II.

These tiered pyramidal vases grew ever taller and more complex in shape over the years, with the Ribes pair measuring 153 cm. (60 1/4 in.) high in its current condition as one of the largest vases to date. The base for the pyramid is formed by a classical square pedestal, standing on complete lions. The main scene painted on the pedestals of this pair of flower vases depicts a typical chinoiserie style of birds, rock work and flowers. The transition between the pedestal and the pyramid-shaped section is formed by volutes with sphinxes. The repetition of the square tiers required the artist to repeat the same patterns and decorations, but to make them smaller and smaller towards the top. At all of the corners grotesque heads molded in relief issue spouts from their gaping jaws. The spouts were placed toward the bottom of each tier so that the flower stems could touch the water in the tier, which itself formed a small reservoir. The tower of these vases usually is surmounted by an obelisk tapering to a sharp point and terminating in a shaped finial. Occasionally, the tower is surmounted by a bust of Queen Mary, as in the majestic pair of pyramids in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (BK- 2004-4-A, B, ill. 13) or Victoria & Albert Museum, London (C.96-1981, C.19-1982), or with a crown, as in Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels (inv. no. Ev. 354). The Ribes pair lacks however a few tiers and its original tops, which are currently replaced by an eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain finial. But based on its similarity in model and size to the pair in the Rijksmuseum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, it is highly probable that the Ribes pair was initially also surmounted by a bust of Queen Mary.

Moreover, the flower pyramids’ outstanding provenance makes it even more probable that busts of Queen Mary adorned the vases. The pair of pyramids has been in the Ribes collection for over a century, when Charles-Aimé-Auguste, 4th Count de Ribes (1858-1917) married Marie-Denise-Henriette du Puget (1872-1957). Although the Ribes family had strong ties to the French monarchy dating back to the eighteenth century, the pair of Delftware flower pyramids come, by repute, from the collection of Edme Antoine, 1st Count du Puget (1742-1801). The du Puget family, which were always very close to the monarchy, has its roots in the late ninth century and the large volume of armorial bearings compiled by Charles René d'Hozier (1640-1732), indicates several eminent members including, Claude du Puget, Squire during the fifteenth century. His grandson, Lord des Brulais was appointed Archer des Ordonnances du Roi and includes amongst his descendants many officers for the House of the King, and the initiation of more than twenty Order of Malta Knights in 1506, with Béranguier du Puget nominated in Rhodes. Other renowned Order of Malta members were Boniface du Puget, the Grand Commander of the Order, Captain of the Papal war galley at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and Antoine du Puget, the Grand Master of the Artillery, and Protector of the Capital war galley of the Order. The Order of St. Louis was a Royal and honorary military order created in 1693 by Louis XIV and bestowed on several members of the du Puget family including Étienne du Puget as Artillery Commander, his nephew Edme Antoine as Major General, and Edme’s son Auguste as Captain of the Infantry.

Delftware has been a national symbol of Holland for almost 400 years. Initiated by the demand for the waning importation of Oriental porcelain from the 1640s, Delftware quickly became an iconic national product and one of the greatest Dutch achievements. From the 1680s the Delftware industry has constantly innovated with new shapes, decorations and functions. Their products were coveted by European nobility and royalty for their quality and diversity. The city of Delft rapidly became an inspiration to many European and even Oriental potters. Since 1881, over five generations of the Aronson family have brought to market the highest quality Delftware. Aronson confidently ensures that private collectors and museum and corporate curators will discover fully researched authentic Delftware.

In the first half of the 15th century, mercantile cities such as Brugge (Bruges) and Antwerp in the southern Netherlands (now Belgium) became familiar with earthenware from southern Europe through both trade and political contacts with Italy, Spain and Portugal. This earthenware was exported by Spain and Italy to the northwestern European commercial centers often by sea.

One of the maritime trade routes passed through the Spanish island of Mallorca, from which the name ‘maiolica’ developed for a certain type of glazed pottery. Dutch Maiolica is an earthenware product coated with a tin glaze on the front or exterior and a highly translucent lead glaze on the back or base. Maiolica dishes were fired face down on three spurs that often left marks which remained visible in the central design. In Italy the city of Faenza was a well known center for the production of earthenware that came to be called ‘faience’ by the French. It was slightly more refined than maiolica and distinguished from it in that the earthenware body was completely covered on the front and back with a whiter tin glaze. Also, faïence dishes were fired with the image upward so the spur marks appeared on the back or underside.

By the middle of the 15th century, largely through the gradual migration of potters from southern Europe through France to the Netherlands, the earthenware industry had become well established in Antwerp. At this time the Guild of Saint Luke was founded – an artisans’ guild which eventually would extend throughout the Netherlands and would exist for many centuries. The books of the guild reveal that by the end of the 15th century several Italian maiolica- and faience-makers in Antwerp had become extremely successful.

In the second half of the 16th century, under religious pressure, many of the reformists and Protestants were forced to leave Antwerp. Most moved to London, Hamburg or the northern Netherlands and specifically to the city of Haarlem (the city after which New York’s ‘Harlem’ was named) near Amsterdam. One of the families in Haarlem who operated a successful potting business were the Verstraetens, who produced wares in the maiolica (or majolica) tradition. A quarrel in 1642 between Willem Jansz. Verstraeten and his son Gerrit split the market. The elder Verstraeten continued making the old-fashioned majolica and the son ventured into the more modern faience, which was more thinly potted and bore a closer resemblance to the imported Chinese porcelain wares that were becoming so sought-after.

The rise of the potting industry in Haarlem occurred simultaneously with the decline of the beer brewing industry in the town of Delft. As the Delft brewers ceased production at the beginning of the 17th century because the town’s canal water had become too polluted to be used to make a potable brew, their large abandoned buildings on the canals were quickly occupied by the pottery-makers, who could utilize both the space and the convenient water source for the working of their clays and for the transportation of their raw materials and finished wares.

At precisely the same time and throughout the 17th century, the Dutch developed a dominance in the European trade with China through which they imported large cargoes of luxury goods, including the much-coveted blue and white porcelain. By the middle of the century, however, a war in China interrupted the production and exportation to the Netherlands of Chinese porcelain, which declined from a quarter million pieces per year to a mere trickle. The potters in Delft seized the opportunity to fill the void, and they began producing earthenwares in emulation of Chinese porcelain, which they successfully marketed as “porcelain.”

Within the next century and a half, the Delft pottery-makers became so successful, that their products were imitated by many pottery and porcelain factories across Europe and even in the Far East. At the height of production the Guild of Saint Luke counted almost 40 factories in the small city of Delft. Because they were innovative and adaptive to the needs and whims of their varied clientèle, and because of the perseverance of the Delft potters, the elegant term ‘faience’ has become synonymous with ‘delftware’.

Aronson Antiquairs of Amsterdam
Aronson Antiques, a traditional family business, was founded in 1881 by Leon Aronson (1830-1910), also son of an antiques dealer, in the eastern Dutch city of Arnhem. Leon’s son David (1878-1942) moved to the Dutch capital Amsterdam around 1900. During World War II, the gallery was closed and the stock was sold by a ‘Verwalter,’ an administrator appointed by the German occupier. Nico and Ab (1916-1990), both sons of David, were the only survivors after WWII and restarted the business with nothing but experience and determination.

In the 1981 centennial publication, Ab recalled: “The first thing I bought [after the war] was a large safe. I bought it for pennies at an auction. The thing couldn’t be carried or lifted, but I exchanged it for six antique chairs.” He also revealed his business philosophy: “Profit is nice, but the love for antiques is better. One should be able to separate between trading and the love for antiques. … Where is the enjoyment, if all you can think of is interest and percentages ?”

In 1967, after a year of training with a colleague in London, Dave (1946-2007), Ab and wife Noen’s only child, joined his parents in the business. Prior to Ab’s death in 1990, Robert, son of Dave, decided also to continue in the footsteps of so many of his forebears, and after working at the head office of Sotheby’s in London for two years, he joined his father in 1992. Dave and Robert internationalized the firm rapidly, with the first overseas art fair in London in 1992 and starting to participate in The Winter Antiques Show in New York in 1994. Dave was chairman of the Executive Committee of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht from 1999 through his passing in 2007. Although having a background as an general antiques dealer, nowadays Aronson specializes in, and is world renowned for 17th and 18th century Dutch Delftware. An annual publication on Delftware, providing art historical context, and the e-commerce platform set the standard for a modern international dealership.

The Aronsons came to Amsterdam around 1900 and took up shop on Spiegelgracht, the elongation of the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. The next generation moved to Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 64, worked from there until World War II and from 1945 Aronson’s occupied Kerkstraat 146, nowadays called Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 45-a&b. By the turn of the century the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, named after the extremely influential Hendrik Laurensz. Spiegel (1549-1612), became the antiques district of Amsterdam, mainly due to its proximity to the newly built Rijksmuseum (1885).

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