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Noordnederlandse majolica: kast opruimen

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

This article has been prompted by two recent works on the subject, the new and greatly expanded version published in 1981 of Nederlandse majolica by Dingeman Korf, a pioneer in the field in many respects and certainly the most important figure in it since the Second World War, and an article by J.D. van Dam, written to accompany an exhibition illustrating developments in the Dutch earthenware industry, which was held in 1982-3. The former provisionally constitutes a final stage in the study of the subject; the latter is evidently meant to inaugurate a new phase. The study of North Netherlandish maiolica began in 1870, when A. van der Willigen appended a considerable number of archival data about the Haarlem potters to the French edition of his work on the painters of that town. F. D. Obreen followed in 1877-8 with publications about Delft and Utrecht potters. Meanwhile, a second approach, that of collecting, had been proceeding briskly and in 1878 Havard published his almost legendary Histoire de la faience de Delft, the first attempt to connect the collectors pieces with the records and arrive at attributions. An enormous amount of work was done in the Delft archives by the city archivist A. H. H. van der Burgh, most of it unpublished, while in 1883 the Amsterdam archivist N. de Roever pleaded in an article on Amsterdam potters for more links between documents and objects. After this publication attention was no longer focused exclusively on Delft, Havard's second, enlarged edition of his work in 1909 also covering Rotterdam, Utrecht and Arnhem. The first decades of this century saw the emergence of an interest in archaeology, notably in the Nederlandsch Museum, where Elisabeth Neurdenburg and Adriaan Pit linked the archaeological material, with production in Middelburg and Haarlem. Neurdenburg introduced a more objective classification of the material according to its decoration rather than to attributions to factories. A find of incalculable importance was that made in Rotterdam in 1914 during the excavations for the building of the town hall, Hoynck van Papendrecht publishing a magisterial work with illustrations of sherds and reconstruction drawings. He stressed the importance of kiln waste, gave a detailed, documented survey of production methods, an equally well documented account of the development of the industry in Rotterdam and accounts of dated pieces, the function of the guild and the history of eighteen factories in the area. Nanne Ottema also published finds of sherds with reconstruction drawings and succeeded in acquiring for the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden extremely important records from two Harlingen factories still in operation. It was Ottema who first saw the importance of the changeover from setting-stands to saggars in firing and from the use of lead glaze on the backs of pieces to an all over tin glaze. In Amsterdam Ferrand Hudig continued the work started by De Roever, publishing a series of fine articles in connection with new finds of sherds and even giving an inventarization of types in the case of the Amsterdamse Bank find. Yet the documentary evidence in his Delfter Fayence of 1929 is adduced in a completely unreliable way, making it a collector's handbook of the bad variety. De Jonge's new handbook of 1947 added nothing new methodologically and exhibits a disastrous misuse of documentation in respect of working out the number of factories in existence at different periods. The foundation of the Vrienden van de Nederlandse Caramiek society in 1952 represents a milestone in the historiography of maiolica. In 1956 Helbers published a find of kiln waste in the Mededelingenblad, in which for the first time sherds were linked beyond doubt with a documented factory, while from 1964 onwards appeared a series of articles by Dingeman Korf. As an amateur with a scientific background, he gave a considerable boost to the study through his refreshingly systematic approach. He revived the earlier interest in production methods, illustrating setting-stands, saggars, biscuit, wasters, etc., and pointing out the existence of thin tin-glazed ware fired in saggars elsewhere than in Deft, for which he invented the term 'proto-Delftware'. He too made careful reconstruction drawings, including sections, a completely new innovation in thisfield. The high point of his oeuvre was his article on the finds of sherds in Haarlem, which included archival study concentrated on potteries in the neighbourhood of the finds. He was also familiar with the latest archaeological techniques, basing dating on quantitative analysis of finds in the absence of the possibility of studying the stratigraphy. Perhaps his most important contribution was the beginning qf a typological classification of the sherd material, albeit in his dating he did not avoid the trap of going on the unverifiable experience so common in collectors' and antiquarian circles. His book of 1981, which does not take the subject further than 1700, also lays great emphasis on technical aspects, but it goes just a bit too far in its typological tables, innovatory though these are, by suggesting that the types are already dated, which they are not. Korf also fails to give chapter and verse here for his attributions of sherds to potters on the basis of where they were found and one has to dig this out of his earlier publications for oneself. Yet again, therefore, we have a handbook that fails to reach a reasonable standard and is decidedly inferior to articles by the same author. One aspect in it is almost completely new, however, namely the attention paid to the social aspects of the industry. Finally there is Van Dam's contribution, in which he makes a praiseworthy attempt to distinguish a clear line in a study that has become altogether too labyrinthine. He tries to link maiolica production with imports of Chinese porcelain, sketching the rise and decline of the factories in the various towns and making a more precise division into periods, i.e. up to 1600, before the importation of Kraakporselein, 1600-45, when imports reached their height, 1645-66, when they lapsed as a result of the fall of the Ming Dynasty, and after 1666, the period of specialization and concentration. The detailed discussion of Van Dam's article is prefaced by a survey of the archaeological finds relating to the earthenware industry. These include not only the large find on the town hall site in Rotterdam, but also important finds in Amsterdam from levels dated before 1644 and 1664, as well as others from kiln sites in Tichelstraal and Anjeliersstraat. A students' working group from the Art History Institute of Amsterdam University studied the Amsterdam sherd finds in 1978-9 under the writer's direction, but without achieving any publish-able results. The study did, however, demonstrate the importance of arriving at a typological classification. Ideally it ought to be possible to build up a range of types for numbers of factories and on the basis of this work out their production and distribution. Kiln sites have also been excavated at Gouda, Harlingen, Leiderdorp and Deventer, while a whole series of finds have been made in Haarlem, the most important being that of a quantity of large dishes with rich and subtle decoration in the manner of Chinese porcelain at a site on the Hooimarkt, not far from the Bagijnhof where Gerrit Willemsz. Verstraeten had his factory. A short survey of dated pieces is also given and il is pointed out that those of the 16th century give remarkably little to go on, particularly if Korf's doubts are accepted regarding the date on the earliest piece of 1568. Most of these problematical objects are simply left out of account by Van Dam. As regards the 17th century there exists a whole range of daled pieces (listed here in Note 13), which seems more or less to support Korf's typology. The discussion of Van Dam's article is based mainly on a survey of the known history of the earthenware industry in Amsterdam and Haarlem. The early history of the pottery industry in Amsterdam is exceptionally clear, with the potters continually being obliged to move their premises further out of the city as it expanded, owing to the fire hazard. By the early 17th century they were settled in the Jordaan, where they remained until the 19th century. The first mention of maiolica makers dates from 1597, although an old street name, Geleynensteeg, might possibly be an indication of their presence as early as 1557. Van Dam adduces entirely new arguments to show that tin glaze was being used in Holland before 1550, but they do not carry much weight. He further mentions two known maiolica makers in Amsterdam before 1600: Carstiaen van den Abeele from Bruges, who settled in Amsterdam in 1584, and Adriaen Jansen Bogaert, mentioned in 1587. In fact, however, we also know the names of two more: Jacques Verham of Mechelen, who settled in Amsterdam in 1591, and Samuel de Meulenaere, who came from Antwerp in 1594. Nothing more is known about them. Similarly Van Dam says that there were six factories in production in the city between 1600 and 1620, but in fact there were only two, those of Hans van den Bos and Jan Jansz. de Pol. Van Dam's account of the increase in the number of factories up to 1620 and their concentration as a result of liquidations and mergers between 1630 and 1640 proves to have been derived from Hudig and merely shows how confusion becomes worse confounded when scholars copy from one another. That the Amsterdam factories made many tiles as well as dishes, etc. seems fairly well proven in the later 17th century, for most of the kiln waste finds include both. Van Dam records only two combined maiolica and tile factories between 1625 and 1650, but documentary evidence shows that the area between Bloemgracht and Anjeliersgracht must have been swarming with them, the two best known being those of Haye Esdré and Jan Eydes, both of considerable size. After 1660 Van Dam has only two tile factories left in Amsterdam, but again it is possible to list more of them in various areas and finds show that their products were not confined to tiles either. As regards Haarlem, Van Dam was the first to adduce that splendid document, the 1568 inventory of the impounded goods of the maiolica maker Adriaen Bogaert, to show not only that the industry was established in Haarlem at an exceptionally early date, but also that it reveals the names of two more potters, one of whom, Hendrick Gerritsz., Van Dam consigns to the group of unspecialized early factories that he himself has just created. He estimates the number of factories before 1620 at seven, but there is really no basis, for what seems a rather low estimate, to judge from documentary and other evidence. Van Dam further maintains that production in Haarlem declined after 1610, but this is not so certain either. Two factories were liquidated, but the history of the others is unknown, as is the number of new factories that may have been established. A lot of names are recorded, but nothing else. Van Dam is also of the opinion that 'faience' (his name for proto-Delftware) was made in the Netherlands only in Delft and Haarlem between 1625 and 1660, a much too bold assumption in view of the finds of saggar pins at the kiln site in Tichelstraat in Amsterdam and pieces with tin glaze on both sides in Zakstraat in Haarlem. Nor is it true that there were only two maiolica and tile factories in Haarlem between 1625 and 1650. It seems fairly certain that the most important of the remaining firms was that of Willem Jansen Verstraeten, who had at least 22 painters and potters in his service in 1650, but it is nonsense to say that there remained only two important maiolica makers in the whole of the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century. Quite apart from Verstraeten himself and Van Gogh of Delft, there was Verstraeten's son Gerrit Willemsz. and four more names from Haarlem can be added to the list. One of these, Duifje Steffens, may have been only a dealer, but another, Karel de Koninck, only came to Haarlem in 1705, so that it is quite wrong to state as Van Dam does that the industry had entirely disappeared before 1700. From the other names known it is clear that there were an unknown number of potters, especially on Burgwal, the Koolsteeg find giving a detailed picture of their activities. Nor is it true that 'faience' was made only in Delft after 1660, for Karel de Koninck of Haarlem is referred to as a 'porceleyn' maker in 1705. Van Dam's approach is certainly more productive than Korf's in that he covers both maiolica and ware with tin glaze on both sides, but his more detailed division into periods is again based on the collectors' tradition regarding the classification of North-Netherlandish maiolica, which is one of the most shaky parts of the art-historical maiolica model. For instance, he says that the earliest Dutch pieces cannot be distinguished from Antwerp ware, but he does not go into such evidence as does exist, e.g. the puzzling pieces with tin glaze on both sides, one dated 1581 (Fig. 1), which have been found among kiln waste in Haarlem, or the closely related fine ware with a blue ground on both sides, of which finds have been made in Amsterdam and in the earliest layer at Zakstraat in Haarlem. He also fails to give chapter and verse for the stronger influence from Faenza that he posits after 1600 or for how long dishes with Kraakporselein decoration continued to be made. The transition from maiolica' to 'faience' is also carelessly handled, the examples being chosen on the basis of their decoration and not, on any known dating or other hard information. Nor does he say anything about the possible characteristics of Haarlem or Amsterdam ware, although Korf says that differences do start to appear between them after 1625. Another lacuna is the absence of any comment on what the armorial ware by Willem Jansen Verstraeten must have been like, although we do, of course, have some idea of this (Figs. 2, 3). One problem here is that armorial ware is also known that must have been made in Amsterdam, while another is precisely what the 'porcelain' made by Gerrit Willemsz. was like. This last question can only be answered by a full publication and careful study of all the documents in the quarrel between father and son (Note 20). It would certainly have been better if this had been done before Van Dam's wholesale attribution of all the Patanazzi and Urbino dishes (Note 22) to Willem Jansen (Figs. 4, 5). Even more surprising is the virtual failure to discuss the important Hooimarkt find, which must surely be attributable to Gerrit Willemsz. and which includes dishes of very high quality which are pure imitations of Chinese Kraakporselein and must, surely have been described as 'porceleyn'. Ihe exhibition also included a number of comparable dishes of even finer quality, all found in Haarlem, but not linked to any known factory (Fig. 6). In short, promising though Van Dam's article may appear and cogent though his suggestions regarding the link with Chinese porcelain may be, what he has written is nowhere near accurate enough and begs far too many questions.


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