Porcelain, Palaces and the Dutch Influence in 17th Century England

Copy of Dutch Dollhouse Culture 1 (3)

Royal incentive enabled trends to catch across Europe in the interests of fashion and Queen Mary II and King William III’s arrival in England as co-regents swore in the Dutch decorative taste, fresh from their residences in the Netherlands. The King and Queen’s collection of palaces followed the sequential pattern of those in France, decked out in the heights of Baroque style: Collections including Chinese porcelain and Delftware were shown in china closets, rooms of the newly acquired Royal Palace of Kensington House and in the Water Gallery – a series of private apartments belonging to the Queen along the Thames.

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Famed furnisher to the gentry Daniel Marot (1661 – 1752) was tasked with the decoration of various estates including Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn and Hampton Court Palace in Richmond, with contemporary prints, accounts and inventories offering an illuminating insight into the incorporation of Chinese porcelain within the interior scheme.

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Design for China Cabinet, engraving, Daniel Marot, 1703 – 1712, Nethlands.

Indeed, Mary made a point of personally collecting porcelain and had pieces shipped to England where they were distributed across the royal palaces for display.

Room of the Sibyls, Altenburg Palace, Germany and The “Porcelain Chamber” in Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin, completed in 1706.

Her instruction appears to have steered the redecoration of Hampton Court in 1689, which took its cues not only from the Dutch, but also from the treatment of porcelain in certain German palaces were it was greatly amassed, filling room with pyramid-like constructions. You wouldn’t have wanted to be around were any of these to topple over, especially not given the value in weight of a type of ‘white gold’.

Design for fireplace and wall treatment (c. 1700) and an engraving of Daniel Marot’s design for Queen Mary at Hampton Palace.

A German influence could be seen in the self-topped corner fireplaces at Hampton Court, with a description given prior to this in 1687 concerning an audience chamber of Queen Mary. where: ‘the chimney-piece was full of precious porcelain, part standing half inside it, and so fitted together that one piece supported another’. Here, we can note the importance of working in Chinese porcelain so that it harmonised with the particular room’s furnishings, which, often, would’ve been equally exotic. Of a country estate at Honselaerdyck, Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin writes that it was ‘very richly furnished with Chinese work and pictures’ and Defore records in his Tour thro’ the Whole Island of GB (1724-27) that ‘the queen brought in the Custom or Humour, as I may call it, of furnishing Houses with China-Ware, which increased to a strange degree afterwards, piling their China upon tops of Cabinets, scutores, and every Chimney-piece, to the Tops of the Ceilings, and even setting up Shelves for their China-ware, they wanted such Places…’ .

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The Porcelain Pagoda, Nanjing. As illustrated in Fischer von Erlach’s Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (1721).

This ‘principle of accumulation’ entailed grouping together imported objects in ‘special galleries and halls for exhibition purposes’ on ‘walls, shelves, or console tables’ with ‘more tables, together with pedestals and cases’ in ‘the centre of the room’ that were ‘all arranged so as to show off the items to maximum advantage’. The Baroque passion for mirrors added to the effect, the use of which would multiply the various patterns, surfaces and colours creating a sense of exoticism – an element apparent in Daniel Marot’s engraving for the Queen’s apartment rooms which features japanned wood, oriental wall panels and porcelain shown together eclectically.

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Delft Tulip Vase. Made from a design by Daniel Marot for Queen Mary, c. 1690.

Another key display feature within the interior was the use of pagodas and pyramids in porcelain, combining exotic elements such as the pagoda of Nanjing encountered through travel accounts with flower arranging. Flowers such as the Dutch tulip could form a cascade down the porcelain through the development of multiple tiered vases with individual spouts on the corner of each storey. Indeed, Queen Mary’s tastes for blue-and-white ceramics and flowers lent themselves to this innovative showpiece.


William III and Mary II, King and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, c1689. Artist, Unknown.

As an admirer of porcelain and Delftware, Queen Mary in particular can be credited with bringing the practice of display into the interior as a fashionable practice. The dissemination of prints and engravings featuring porcelain within rooms, such as those of Daniel Marot also form an important source of inspiration in terms of fashions and trends involving the display of fine porcelains.

Read about Augustus II’s porcelain habit here…
Find out about how porcelain became a luxury commodity in Britain here…
Fancy a change of scenery? Delve into the sensuality of the Rococo here…

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, or, another other of the features, please do leave a comment – it would be lovely to hear from you!

Sources Used: 

Alayrac-Fielding, Vanessa, ’From the curious to the “artinatural”: the meaning of oriental porcelain in 17th and 18th-century English interiors’, Miranda Revues [2012] via: https://miranda.revues.org/ 4390

Durbin, Lesley, Architectural Tiles: Conservation and Restoration (Routledge, 2014).

Leath, Robert A., ‘After the Chinese Taste: Chinese Export Porcelain and Chinoiserie Design in Eighteen- Century Charleston’, Historical Archaeologyy, Vol. 33, No. 3, 199, pp. 48-61.

Munger, Jeffrey, ‘German and Austrian Porcelain in the Eighteenth Century’, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Online [October, 2003] via: https:// http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/porg/hd_porg.htm

Somers Cocks, Anna, ‘The Nonfunctional Use of Ceramics in the English Country House During the Eighteenth Century’, Studies in Art History, Vol. 25, 1989.

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