Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Garniture of five vases

Photo: Paul Macapia

Garniture of five vases

ca. 1710

Lambert van Eenhoorn

Dutch, died 1721

These five vases are examples of eighteenth-century Delftware, tin-glazed earthenware created in Holland. The Dutch called a garniture of large vases a kaststel. Designed for display atop a kast, a type of high cupboard, or on a chimney-piece, these impressive vases were inspired by Chinese Ming alter vases. The enterprising Dutch potteries, capitalizing on the dearth of blue-and-white porcelain from war-riddled China during the transition from the Ming dynasty (mid-fourteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries) to the Qing dynasty (mid-seventeenth century to early twentieth century), created a market for Delftware garnitures in sets of three, five or seven matching vases.
Delftware, tin-glazed earthenware
(2) 19 3/4 in. x 32 1/4 in. (50.2 81.9 cm)
(2) 16 3/4 x 7 5/8 in. (42.5 x 19.3cm)
(1) 17 x 23 5/8 in. (43.2 x 60 cm)
Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund
Photo: Paul Macapia
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

Oscar Wilde: Living Up to Blue China

While a student at Oxford, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) proclaimed, "We spend our days looking for the secret of life. Well, the secret of life is art…. I find it harder and harder to live up to my blue china." This statement caused an incredible stir. From the pulpit of Saint Mary's Oxford, its vicar, Dean Burgon, berated Wilde: "When a man says not in polished banter, but in sober earnestness, that he finds it difficult to live up to the level of his blue china, there has crept into this cloistered shades a form of heathenism which it is our bounden duty to fight against and to crush out, if possible." Never mind the vicar--the legacy of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain lives on in its countless variety.
Portrait of Oscar Wilde with Cane, 1882
Photo: Napoleon Sarony
Donated by Corbis-Bettmann. ©CORBIS/Bettman, BE040635

"Carryers of the World"

Between 1581, when the Dutch declared their independence from Roman Catholic Spain, and 1648, when the fully independent United Provinces of the Netherlands were recognized, the industrious Dutch became increasingly purposeful and prosperous as they developed their role as the "Carryers of the World," as Daniel Defoe called them. Maritime trade in the Dutch golden age (the second half of the seventeenth century) ensured the economic prosperity of the country and introduced Dutch potters to the wonders of Chinese porcelain.

Chinese porcelain made in the late Ming period, called kraak porselein (porcelain from a carrack, a Portuguese sailing vessel) by the Dutch, was greatly admired for its pure white color and vibrant underglaze blue decoration. Vast quantities of porcelain, especially blue-and-white, streamed into Europe during the seventeenth century, inspiring a tremendous craze. The word kraak soon became a synonym for Chinese porcelain and is the term by which it is known today. The secret of porcelain production was locked in the East, and the warm, white, tin-glazed ceramic body and rich cobalt blue decoration of Dutch Delftware was a successful attempt to emulate Chinese porcelain.
Large dish with dragon (example of kraak porcelain), ca. 1610-20, Chinese, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), 91.40

The Making of Tin-Glazed Earthenware

Earthenware is a ceramic object made from clay that has not vitrified, or fused, during a low-temperature firing (around 600° C to 1100° C). It is porous and cannot hold liquids unless sealed with a glaze. Early Islamic potters of ninth-century Mesopotamia and Persia perfected the white, opaque glaze by adding tin oxide to a clear lead glaze. This glaze gave their buff-colored pottery a white surface suitable for painted decoration.
Baluster vase and cover from a garniture of five vases, ca. 1710, The Metal Pot Factory, signed by Lambert van Eenhoorn, 54.81.3
Photo: Paul Macapia

East meets West: Decorative Influences on Delftware

Vase, blue & white, ca. 1672-1722, Chinese, 33.1147
Vase, ca. 1672-1722, Chinese, 33.1182.1
Jingdezhen ware, ca. 1700-1715, Chinese, 33.1183
Blue and white vase, ca. 1662-1722, Chinese, 49.149

The Dutch East India Company

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie-V.O.C.) was founded in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a twenty-one-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It remained an important trading company for almost two centuries. The company went bankrupt and was dissolved in 1798.

The logo of the Amsterdam Chamber of the V.O.C. is the central image of a seventeenth century Japanese plate in SAM's collection.
VOC plate, ca. 1660-80, Japanese, 75.78
Photo: Susan Cole

The Lasting Popularity of Blue-and-White Ceramics

In the seventeenth century, blue-and-white porcelain and colorfully decorated Japanese porcelain filled entire rooms in palaces. It remained popular throughout the eighteenth century, both as Chinese export ware and in myriads of underglaze-blue patterns on European porcelain. In the late nineteenth century, blue-and-white porcelain filled Claude Monet's dining room at Giverny, in spectacular contrast to the lemon-yellow cupboards and walls. Inspired by the wave of Chinese and Japanese wares that poured into Europe throughout the seventeenth century and the European wares that emulated them, a love for blue-and-white ceramics remains part of Western culture to this day.
Dining Room of Claude Monet's House at Giverny, ca. 1967-1990
Photo: Farrell Grehan
© Farrell Grehan/CORBIS, FG001054

Why Did the Dutch Produce Earthenware and Not Porcelain?

The secret of producing white, translucent porcelain was carefully guarded in China. The only choice for admirers of Chinese porcelains was to imitate these rare imported treasures. Having discovered neither the clay formula nor the high-fire techniques necessary to make true porcelain, early Islamic potters of ninth-century Mesopotamia and Persia perfected a white, opaque glaze that gave their buff-colored pottery a white surface suitable for painted decoration.

Islamic armies marched west in the eighth century, conquering most of Spain. Gradually, Islamic potters carried the art of tin glazing and luster decoration across Northern Africa into that region. As the knowledge of tin glazing spread, similar wares approximating the look of porcelain were produced.
Jug, late 12th century, Persian, 50.93

Blue-and-White Porcelain in Dutch Painting

During the active years of the Dutch East India Company, Amsterdam became the European center for commerce and banking. It was the clearing house for the steady flow of both Asian goods and European products into and out of European markets. Chinese porcelain (Kraak) coming into the Netherlands during this period was so highly valued that it often appeared in the most extravagant type of Dutch still-life painting-the banquet scene.

In this banquet painting by Abraham van Beyeren, a Kraak porcelain bowl takes central focus, along with a rare nautilus shell. The blue-and-white bowl and mounted shell share a precarious placement on the table amid a rich array of food, Venetian-style glass goblets, a German Römer (wineglass) and Dutch silver. This feast for the eye documents the wealth of goods circulating through Dutch ports and society during the peak of the country's power.
Banquet Still Life, ca. 1653-55, Abraham van Beyeren, 61.146
Photo: Eduardo Calderón


Julie Emerson, Former Ruth J. Nutt Curator of Decorative Arts, Seattle Art Museum, talks about the Garniture of Five vases


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, "Porcelain Stories, From China to Europe", February 17 - May 7, 2000 (2/17 - 5/7/2000)
Published References"Selected Works." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1991, p. 100 (as 58.41)

Emerson, Julie, Jennifer Chen, & Mimi Gardner Gates. "Porcelain Stories, From China to Europe". Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 2000. Pl. 9.4 and 9.5, pp. 106-107

Yiu, Josh, On the Origin of the Garniture de Cheminée, American Ceramic Circle Journal, Volume XV, 2009, Fig. 1, illustrated pg 10

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM