This was the chance of a lifetime, says director Benno Tempel of the museums acquisition of two seventeenth-century Delftware flower pyramids. Very few flower pyramids have survived intact over the centuries, and virtually none as a pair. These are probably the last pair on the open art market. The two large pyramid-shaped flower holders were made in Delft around 1690. Their blue-and-white decoration depicts birds, rocks and flowers in a Chinese style. There are only three other sets of flower pyramids of this extraordinary iconic style in the world and just one single vase. Experts had no idea there was a fifth set. Kunstmuseum Den Haag
, which has one of the most important museum collections of Delftware in the world, had no flower pyramids, despite the fact that they are the symbol of Delft blue. This purchase therefore makes an ideal addition to the museums collection, and also represents a boost to the Dutch national collection.
Delftware flower pyramids are rare particularly ones of this height (approx. 1.60 metres) and exceptional quality. The two flower pyramids recently purchased by Kunstmuseum Den Haag have withstood the test of time remarkably well. They consist of nine elements resting on four sphinxes, on a pedestal supported by three recumbent lions. This pair of flower pyramids can be regarded as highlights of blue Delftware. They are in good condition. Only the top parts of the towers have been replaced by eighteenth-century Chinese porcelain, and a corner of one of the pedestals has been restored. The acquisition has already led to a number of new discoveries.
In the late seventeenth century Delft potters produced flower holders several metres tall for the court of William and Mary and the European elite. Their palaces were decorated with Chinese porcelain and Delftware, the Dutch version of China. The vases combined two of Marys great passions: flowers and ceramics. A number of flower pyramids are now kept in museum and private collections. The largest single example (1.78 metres tall) is at the Louvre. The other sets of the same iconic design as the pair purchased by Kunstmuseum Den Haag, are at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague and Chateau Mnichovo Hradite in the Czech Republic. This purchase is therefore very important for the Dutch national collection. Examples of this important part of our cultural heritage can now be seen at two locations in the Netherlands.
The flower pyramids will be displayed on the Rembrandt Associations stand at TEFAF. The acquisition would not have been possible without the associations support (courtesy of its National Art Collection Fund, its Van Rijn Fund and Foundation Van Rees-Klatte), and the support of the Mondrian Fund, the Kunstmuseum Fund and BankGiro Loterij. Shortly afterwards the pyramids will be given a prominent position in Royal Blue William and Marys Finest Delftware which will open at Kunstmuseum Den Haag on 21 March. This exhibition, organised by Kunstmuseum Den Haag in collaboration with Het Loo Palace, is an ode to Royal Delft, the blue-and-white earthenware for which the Netherlands is still famous today. It is based on the collection of stadtholder Willem III and Princess Mary II Stuart, who also became King and Queen of England in 1689. It is likely given their resemblance to the sets at the Rijksmuseum and the V&A that each of these flower pyramids was originally topped with a bust in the form of Queen Mary. The museum therefore plans to have these parts reproduced, and mounted on top of the pyramids at the end of March. After Royal Blue the flower pyramids will be given a home in the museums period rooms, as part of its permanent Delftware WonderWare exhibit.