Saturday, October 17, 2009

Delft Pyramid Vase

Holland, Delft, Pyramid vase, tin-glaze earthenware, 1690-1720, over 100 cm high.
This form is called a tulip or pyramid vase. In fact, it was not only used for tulips; all sorts of cut flowers could be arranged in it. This example was made in Delft, between 1690 and 1720 and it is more than a metre high. The construction comprises a stack of vases. Inside, a wooden stick holds the successive basins in place. The separate vases were needed because all the flowers required their own water supply. To make the vase in one piece would have been counterproductive: the water would have escaped once it rose above the bottom spouts. But that was not the only reason why a stack of successive vases was chosen. In 1700 Delft potters had not yet discovered how to fire such high forms. As a single piece, this vase would have collapsed in the kiln. Vases with spouts for individual flowers were made in all sorts of shapes in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The pyramid vase was the ultimate achievement in this field.
Forty flowers could be arranged in this tower of Delft blue Faience, a type of pottery covered in a thick white tin glaze. Usually the glaze is decorated with motifs before being fired in the kiln for the last time. This type of pottery - unlike porcelain - is not pure white: the inside inner layer is brown or beige. The word 'faience' comes from Faenza, on of the Italian cities that specialised in this type of pottery in the 14th and 15th centuries. Faience is also called majolica, presumably a corruption of Majorca. It was through this island that the pottery was shipped. In the 17th century Delft became a major centre of painted faience production. Delftware was renowned as a skilful imitation of Chinese porcelain. The vase is decorated with flowers and birds. On the base, Flora, the goddess of flowers, is painted. The form of the tower is based on two exotic structures which were in fashion in the late seventeenth century. The pointed shape is reminiscent of the Egyptian obelisk. An obelisk is a square-sectioned column tapering towards the top and culminating in a pyramid. The origins of the form lie in ancient Egypt. Numerous obelisks were taken by the Romans from Egypt and displayed throughout Rome as decorative monuments. In the Renaissance the obelisk returned in smaller form as an ornamental motif., a structure that symbolised immortality and princely fame. A pagoda is a freestanding tower-like Asiatic structure. The word is usually applied to Chinese temples built up of different levels. Miniature pagodas are often found in Western art as motifs intended to give an object an oriental tint. Pagodas were known in the Netherlands from illustrations in seventeenth-century travel descriptions of China. The mystery of far-off China caught people's imagination in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.The French word 'Chinoiserie' actually means a work of art from China. However, the term is usually employed to denote the fashion for oriental, or Chinese shapes that raged in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The term 'chinoiserie' is also used for an object dating from this China fashion, such as the gardens with Chinese temples and pagodas or the imitation Chinese porcelain, with imitation Chinese decorations. Often, the decorative motifs comprised a mixture of fantasised Chinese or Oriental figures and shapes together with European Rococo ornamentation, decorated walls, furniture and dinnerware. (Rijksmuseum)

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