09 November, 2015

The Netherlands: Delft

Delft is a curious city in South Holland, situated between Den Haag (The Hague) and Rotterdam, though closer to Den Haag and the coast. 

It is famous for the Delft University of Technology and the famous scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek. It’s also famous as the source (at least as far as names go) for Delft Blue Pottery, as well as the painter Johannes Vermeer, though sadly none of his existing works remain in Delft, despite the presence of the Vermeer Centre.

For attractions it boasts two fabulous churches – die Oude Kerk en die Nieuwe Kerk (the Old and New church, though new is far from accurate now, its construction having finished in 1496).



Citizens of Delft are so proud of their cultural impact on the world that Delft Blue Pottery can be found here as graffiti.

Wandering around by ourselves, we took in the sights. There's a lot to see, especially if you like canals, but that's true for much of the Netherlands. 

There was a coffee shop that had a not-quite hipster feel to it. There was a certain vibe in the place that wasn't unappealing.
They had a selection of novelty and trendy items for sale - possibly so they could appeal to a particular market, though it may have been doown to simple economic necessity. Eithher way, it cheapened the experience of a coffee shop.

What got my attention was the name, though this probably betrays me as once being a Warcraft player.

In the men's room there was a shine to Batdog.

Delft University of Technology

Although Delft University of Technology “only received its current name in 1986, it has been providing technical education for over 170 years”, so the claim goes on their website. It began as a Royal Academy founded by King Willem II in 1842. The university logo incorporates the flame that Prometheus stole from the gods.

The university boasts a wide variety of subjects; everything from architecture to mathematics, computer science to applied science and various forms of engineering including aerospace, civil, electrical and industrial.

 I have been led to believe that this is a student union kind of building which also houses the lunchroom for university students. Its initial design did not include the small concrete pillars near the front of the building. It was designed in such a way that the building would stay up without them. It’s quite a feat of engineering, but there was scepticism and uncertainty and later the pillars were added. In my opinion it’s not the prettiest of buildings, though it does contain some resemblance to a science-fiction spaceship. (The building continues to the right of this picture, meaning this is a side-on view of the front.)

Delft University has an interesting library. It is built into a bank, having grass for a roof, with much of its centre lit by sunlight coming in from a glass tower. Luckily no student card is needed to gain access to the library, so we were able to take a little look around this magnificent building.



Its front doors look out onto the back end of the student union building and once again I can visualise the spaceship, staring at its would-be thrusters.

Delft porcelain is part of the global concept, like Swiss chocolate, Guatemalan coffee or American corruption. It’s also as misleading as Columbus discovering the Americas. Delft porcelain is in fact stoneware. We learned this from a helpful gentleman at De Delftse Pauw (www.delftpottery.com), one of the few Delftware manufacturers left in Delft. 

We also learnt another useful tidbit which was that the name Delft is unimportant in recognising Delftware. As Delft is merely a name, anyone can use it. You can start your own manufacturing in California, Shanghai, Windhoek, Bombay or anywhere else you can imagine and you could still give your stoneware the name Delft. Therefore, if you want to know where your Delftware comes from you are obliged to turn the piece over and look at its base. On there will be the mark of the company as well as the signature of the painter. If it doesn’t have that, then your piece is mass produced and possibly not even hand-painted.
The clay in the Netherlands is a reddish-brown colour which when baked turns red and yellow. The well-known white clay which is the trademark of Delftware is imported from England and Germany. The clay is mixed with water and then placed in moulds which help absorb the water. After half an hour the clay wall is 4mm thick and dry while the interior of the mould is still liquid. At this point the moulds are turned upside down and the contents poured out, leaving a hollow vessel inside. It is then dried for three days before being fired for eight hours at over 1000 degrees Celsius. The cooling process takes about a day. During this time the clay turns into a hard stone.

 A man showing the different manufacturing stages of Delftware.
(Picture from De Delftse Pauw's website)

Blue and white Delftware became extremely popular, but it’s important to know that other colours exist too. It’s also interesting to note that the blue colour comes from the second firing. Initially a black ink is applied to the clay and through the firing process it turns blue. Of all the colours used on the clay, it is the only one that changes in this way.

De Delftse Pauw's showroom.
(Picture from De Delftse Pauw's website)