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The history of Delft: artistry, innovation and a dash of audacity

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The history of Delft: artistry, innovation and a dash of audacity

Delft. Whisper its name, and you're transported to a world of sweeping landscapes, whimsical windmills, and quaint stories told in shades of blue. But there's more to Delft than meets the eye. It's a tale woven with threads of artistry, innovation, and a dash of audacity. A story not just of pottery but of cultures colliding, of innovation born from adversity.

Rewind to the 1500s. Our story begins not in the quaint Dutch city as you might expect, but a little further south, in Antwerp. Enter Guido da Savino, an Italian potter with an eye for beauty and a knack for creating tin-glazed pottery. His pieces, adorned with hand painted motifs in vibrant colours, were quickly growing in popularity - setting the stage for what would one day become Delftware.

We have been painting Delft in the traditional technique since we were founded in the 1930s.

Fast forward through a tumultuous era of religious strife and Spanish invasions, which forced the country’s mainly Protestant potters to seek refuge further north. Several cities in the northern Netherlands began producing similar pottery toward the end of the century, but the most refined was made in Delft.

At this time, the Dutch increasingly dominated trade with China, and Chinese pottery had become much sought-after, with its classic blue designs on fine white porcelain. But the cost? Rather extravagant. Only the very wealthy could afford it. So, Dutch potters rolled up their sleeves and began to produce their own versions from earthenware with a luminous white tin glaze. A second layer of clear glaze added depth and fluidity to the cobalt blue brushstrokes.

Delft became the undisputed centre of production in the Netherlands – partly because the city’s brewing industry was in decline and empty breweries made fine potteries. Toward the middle of the 17th century, with Chinese porcelain in short supply, a gap in the market opened, and the potters of Delft saw their opportunity.

Production soared and as it did so, the style became truly distinctive, depicting images of the world the potters knew. A nod to the East, yet undeniably Dutch. A craze began..

Delft Blue pottery became fabulously popular and, remarkably, its heyday lasted for a full century and a half, even spreading to China and Japan. At its peak, there were 33 bustling Delft factories, painting as many as 800 million tiles. Imagine it! Across the English Channel, a parallel tradition bloomed, with English delftware showcasing a relaxed, informal vibe.

While the feverish obsession waned by the 18th century, Delft's allure remains undiminished. At Marlborough Tiles, we're the custodians of this legacy. As the UK's oldest Delft tile makers, we're not just keeping the tradition alive – we're celebrating it. Our artisans meticulously hand paint each tile using techniques passed down through generations.

Mix and match illustrations and corners from our Classic Delft collection. Experiment with brushstroke colours, and create a vision in blue and white.

And, in the grand tradition of Delft tiles, there's a twist! Instead of the classic cobalt Delft blue, we paint in our very own shades, using the original blue pigments sourced by and named after our founders, Rosalind Packard and Sylvia Ord, nearly 90 years ago. Rosalind is a vibrant and vivacious blue, while Sylvia is a sophisticated silver-grey blue. Each tile is a work of art, painted to your order and signed on the reverse by the artist, ready to transform your space. Learn more about what makes our Delft tiles so special in our article, The art of authenticity: ten reasons our Delft tiles are simply unrivalled.

We're honoured to be a part of Delft’s rich tradition and heritage, and we’ll happily stick our necks out to say that Delft is an iconic style that will be appreciated for years to come: a testament to timeless design.

And now, it’s your turn to craft your own story in blue and white. Dive in and customise your own Delft tiles on our website.



As featured in…

House & Garden
The Telegraph
Homes & Gardens
English Home
Elle Decor
Country Homes
Period Living
Country Life
Country and Town House
Architectural Digest
Marlborough Made