The BMA is pleased to add another outstanding example of ceramic art to its permanent collection. This 17th-century, blue and white, glazed earthenware vessel with two applied handles and applied spouts was made to hold tulips or other flowers.
Tulips were introduced to Europe from Turkey in the 16th century. Once it became known that tulip bulbs could tolerate the harsher weather conditions of the Low Countries, the tulip grew in popularity. Its saturated colors made it unlike any other plant and it soon became a status symbol and thus a coveted luxury item. Prices for tulips reached an extraordinary high during this period, and then collapsed suddenly in 1637. This “tulipmania” is generally considered the first recorded economic “bubble.”
This vase relates closely in both form and decoration to an example in the Het Loo palace collection in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, as well as to two examples at Schloss Favorite near Rastatt, Germany. The Schloss Favorite vases are believed to be part of a group of objects given in London by William and Mary, rulers of England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1689 to 1702, to the Markgraf Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden during the winter of 1693-1694. Ludwig Wilhelm brought the vases back to Germany for his wife Sibylla Augusta, an avid ceramics collector.
The decoration on all four tulip vases relates to the decoration on a series of tiles also made by De Griexe A, a factory that operated between 1657 and 1818, for the Water Gallery at Hampton Court palace in London. The Water Gallery is a Tudor building that was remodeled by Sir Christopher Wren during the late 17th century. The walls were tiled at Mary’s request in the manner of those at Het Loo, William and Mary’s residence in the Netherlands. Mary’s collection of Delft pottery was displayed in the “Delft-Ware Closet” in the Water Gallery. It is likely that the four vases all came from Hampton Court and made their way to Germany via Ludwig Wilhelm.
As an example of 17th-century Dutch blue and white pottery, this vase serves to bridge the gap between the BMA’s extensive collection of Asian blue and white porcelain and its large collection of 18th-century English blue and white ceramics. Expensive Asian porcelains were imported into Europe via Dutch traders and European manufactories sought to copy them using local materials and techniques. The Dutch were the first in Europe to produce blue and white pottery during the 17th century; by the end of the 18th century, several European and British pottery and porcelain makers produced like wares.
The vase allows us furthermore to tell the greater story of 17th-century Dutch art and provides an example of the kinds of decorative arts objects that were made and used during the period. It also illustrates the relationship between the Netherlands and England and expounds on the link between England’s William and Mary and the Dutch Republic. The BMA owns an English chest made by Dutch craftsmen, as well as an English delftware dish that depicts the image of William and Mary. The vase helps explain the movement of artists between the two countries and, as a result, the overlapping stylistic vocabulary that existed during the period.