Black Delftware bowl rediscovered
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Black Delftware bowl rediscovered
Aronson Antiquairs will now present this refined piece of ceramics in the upcoming TEFAF Maastricht.

AMSTERDAM.- A fabulously rare Black Delftware bowl belonging to a group of only about 65 pieces globally will be on public view at TEFAF Maastricht for the first time in almost 60 years.

Black Delftware is as illusive as the name sounds. You have probably never seen a piece, or maybe just behind a glass panel in one only a few museums around the world. Black Delftware was a reaction by potters in the city of Delft to Oriental lacquerware brought to Europe with East India traders. By covering an object with a black glaze, in stead of a white glaze, and painting over it, the illusion of a lacquered object is produced. Only about 65 pieces belonging to this rare group are known and almost half of those are in the collection of the Brussels Cinquantenaire Museum. These objects, amongst which jugs, plates, tea pots and canisters, Buddha’s and some animal figures were all produced in the first quarter of the 18th century. The first pieces can be dated around 1705 and we don’t know any later than the 1720’s. The ingredients, recipe and production process of the black glazed objects was highly guarded and possibly perished with the death of only a few of the potters.

The Black Delftware bowl was last seen publicly at an exhibition at the Museum Willet Holthuysen in Amsterdam in 1962. It was illustrated in the accompanying publication ‘Het wondere zwart van Delft’ (The wondrous black of Delft’) as illustration 3. At the time it was catalogued as belonging to the widow of Anton F. Philips (1874-1951), Dutch entrepreneur and founder of the Philips concern, and we now know that it remained hidden in the family ever since.

Robert Aronson, proprietor of Amsterdam based family firm Aronson Antiquairs and specialists in Dutch Delftware, purchased the entire collection of Delftware including the black bowl from one of the heirs in late 2019. Aronson will now present this refined piece of ceramics in the upcoming TEFAF Maastricht. Although Aronson has handled about a dozen Black Delftware objects over the last three decades he states that “this is really one of the most refined Black Delftware objects I have ever handled. The moment you take it in your hands you cannot be other than mesmerised. It is so light and the quality of the painting is so beautiful. This is a true masterpiece”

The bowl is marked LVE 5 in yellow for Lambertus van Eenhoorn, the owner of De Metaale Pot (The Metal Pot) factory from 1691 until 1721, or his widow Margaretha Teckmann until 1724 and is 16 cm. (6.3 in.) in diameter and 7.3 cm. (2.9 in.) high.

Porcelain, lacquer and silk were among the most sought after exotic goods from China and Japan in far-away Europe. The attraction to these precious items was particularly strong among the courts during the era when trade flourished by land via the Silk Road or by sea. Early in the seventeenth century, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) introduced Japanese lacquerwork to The Netherlands and Europe, much as it had done with Chinese porcelain. In doing so, the VOC created commercial opportunities the Portuguese had neglected. When the Dutch arrived in Japan in 1600 and established commercial relations with the Japanese in the following years, they recognized the high quality of Japanese lacquer and its scarcity in Northern Europe. Dutch buyers were keenly interested in oriental curiosities, and Company merchants predicted that Japanese lacquer could become a profitable item. However, unlike oriental porcelain, Japanese lacquer was too expensive and thus never became a common element of Dutch material culture.

Although expensive, the Japanese lacquerware purchased by the VOC ignited great curiosity and inspiration. The late seventeenth-century European vogue for lacquer coincided with the taste for tromp l’ceil effects. European designers imitated lacquer in a variety of ways and materials, such as wood, metal and earthenware. Also in the city of Delft, potters were inspired by these exotic lacquer-wares and started experimenting with different colors of glazes. From the 1680s onward, the introduction of highly desirable but expensive Japanese Kakiemon and Imari porcelain ignited interest in the development of colors such as brown and black. Since around 1690 it had become increasingly difficult for the VOC to obtain high-quality, affordable oriental lacquerware. As a result, the trade declined. Despite this problem, the household inventories show that wealthy, fashion-conscious townspeople were keen to imitate the court and surround themselves with such exotic objects.

Around 1700, designers also used the gold-decorated black Kangxi porcelain, later known as mirror black as another source of inspiration for brown and black Delft. These objects in the form of covered jars and plates began to be imported into Europe at this time, at he same time as the introduction of Famille noire porcelain on the market. New styles of porcelain tea wares and bowls with partial black decoration must have increased the public’s fascination with the color.

The Delftware potters developed an interest in creating brown and black objects after the shrinking imports of oriental lacquerware around 1690 and the presence of expensive Chinese black porcelain wares on the market. Again, the Delft potteries responded by looking for ways to imitate a luxury product in short supply, as they had done earlier with the other oriental porcelain wares. Delft potters were familiar with the production of faience objects, and they increasingly had satisfactory results with polychrome and gilt decoration. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that objects, which were usually marketed in Delft on a white ground, also began to be produced, albeit in very small quantities, with a shiny brown or black ground with golden yellow or polychrome chinoiserie decoration.

The technique of producing a true black colored glaze was however extremely difficult. Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, “‘Zo net als ’t thans uit China ons hier werd gebracht’ (‘As fine as that imported from China’), A Closer Look at Dutch Black Delftware (1700-1740)”, in Aronson 2006, pp. 42-44, refers to a recipe of 1679 by the German scientist Johann Kunckel (1631/34- 1703) for “Schwarze Glasur” (black glaze) used by Dutch “porcelain painters” in which he advises that “if the surface color should turn brownish-black instead of the intended black, more saffre ([zaffer or] cobalt oxide) should be added” (p. 43). Manganese oxide, the mineral used to obtain the black color, does not react well with some of the other colors.

Because of the difficulty of producing the black glaze, it is believed that very few factories either attempted it or were successful. Nearly seventy examples of Black Delftware are known, and most objects are not marked. Shapes include tea wares, such as teacups and saucers, tea canisters, coffee pots, but also brush backs and larger items as dishes and plaques. The largest assemblage of ‘Black Delft’ is in the Evenepoël Collection at the Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels with 27 pieces.

Of the marked examples, however, two techniques of production have been identified. In the first, as with the teapot and cover illustrated above, the pieces were fired initially with a layer of white tin glaze and applied with polychrome enamels before the blank areas around the decoration were filled in with a black glaze. Most of the marked objects belonging to this category were made in De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory during the ownership of Pieter Adriaensz. Kocx from 1701 to 1703, or his widow Johanna van der Heul from 1703 to 1722. In the second technique the pieces were covered completely in a black glaze and then the enamel decoration was applied onto the black ground itself, as can be seen in the decoration of this bowl. Marked objects from this category were produced mainly by De Metaale Pot (The Metal Pot) factory, owned by Lambertus van Eenhoorn.

Black Delftware objects are among the rarest wares that were produced in the Dutch Delft factories during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when the taste for the exotic thrived. With its striking and elegant chinoiserie decoration, it was always designed for display.

At TEFAF Maastricht (MECC, March 7-15, 2020) Aronson will display this bowl together with a vast collection of Delftware from the 17th and 18th century. “An art dealer never really knows what he or she will be able to buy over the course of a year, so we are happy and privileged to be able to show a large variety of objects dating between about 1590 and 1820 in our booth this year” Aronson says.

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 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 a 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 ecommerce 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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