Ceramics for the Baroque Court
Baroque was the dominant decorative style of Europe in the 17th and early 18th centuries. It was characterised by bold, curved forms, naturalistic detailing and intricate formal patterns, particularly in France.
During these years, European ceramic production was dominated by tin-glazed earthenware. Potteries serving the courts and aristocracy of France, Italy and the Netherlands adopted the Baroque style for grand dining wares, often using it in combination with the blue-and-white colour scheme inspired by Chinese porcelain. Many of these wares were intended primarily for formal display on buffets rather than regular use.
The colourful narrative painting of Italian maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware) had fallen into decline by the 17th century. Italian potteries began to adopt the blue-and-white colour scheme of Chinese porcelain for designs inspired by both Eastern motifs and traditional Italian sources. Bold, new forms were introduced in response to the emerging Baroque style.
The court style of 17th-century France was indebted to Italy. Nevers, in central France, was initially the leading French centre for ceramic production. The city employed many Italian artists, who brought with them the narrative styles of Italian maiolica. These painters also combined elements from French, Chinese and Middle Eastern designs to create a distinctive style of decoration. Executed in white on a dark blue ground, this style is particularly associated with Nevers.
Rouen's tin-glazed pottery thrived under royal patronage from 1644. By the end of the century Rouen had adopted the fashion for blue and white, and developed a formal style of radiating decoration. Tin-glazed pottery became an acceptable substitute for silver after 1709, when Louis XIV requisitioned all silver plate to help finance his wars.
The triumph of Delft
The years 1650 to 1725 were the Golden Age for Dutch tin-glazed pottery. The factories at Delft thrived in a flourishing economy and increased the quality and decorative ambition of their work, partly in response to court demands. After her return to England from the Netherlands in 1689, Queen Mary commissioned and collected Delft pottery to decorate the royal palaces at Kensington and Hampton Court.
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'Baroque 1620 - 1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 4 April - 19 July 2009.