It was in the late seventeenth century, under the patronage of Queen Mary II, who was as passionate about Chinese blue and white porcelain and its local counterpart, Dutch Delftware, as she was about her gardens, that the Delft factories developed their technical skills and virtuosity in the production of all sorts of ’vases with spouts’ to display flowers. Inspired by Queen Mary, it also became fashionable in aristocratic circles to decorate their residences with vases full of flowers. For instance, large vases were used to decorate the fireplace in the summer, and smaller vases were placed on the table during a festive meal. Although the vases in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were filled with all varieties of cut flowers, there has been much misunderstanding about this. In the mid nineteenth century, when collectors and art historians rediscovered Delft earthenware, they must have thought that the vases were intended to be filled with hyacinth bulbs or flowers, as they came to be known as ‘bouquetiers à Jacinthes’. Not long thereafter, however, a more familiar name came into fashion, which is still used today: ‘tulip vase’ or ‘tulipiere’, ascribed to these vases on the revised supposition that they were intended specifically to hold the precious and popular tulips.
The flower vases both for Queen Mary and the aristocratic clientele in both Holland and Great Britain were made in the city of Delft. Around the year 1700 there were over thirty potteries in operation in Delft, of which at least five produced vases with holes and spouts, as their makers’ marks indicate. The shapes of the vases with spouts from the various potteries varied widely. The earliest Delft flower vases were derived from existing objects, such as the large coolers made out of metal. The potters also may have taken their initial inspiration from the simple vases with spouts or apertures, which were being made in Nevers around 1650. These vases were based in turn on contemporary examples in silver, and perhaps even further back from twelfth-century Persian vases. Often these early Delft vases had an oval fluted tank on a base with two handles in the shape of griffins.
In their constant search for innovation and for expansion of their range, around 1680 the Delft potters began to develop new forms of vases. The most common types were table vases in the form of tureens and baskets, or stacks of round basins. The Delft potters made both blue and white pieces, as polychrome vases, such as this ‘Cashmire‘ palette flower vase. The vase with five knotted nozzles painted with floral sprigs and diamond-and-scroll devies and rising from a lobed body, is painted on either side with a Chinese hilly river landscape within an oval panel. The Delft potteries sold flower holders with fanning row(s) of spouts from the 1680s right through to about 1740. Initially, these ‘quintel‘ vases were topped by a single row of five spouts arranged in a fan. The model of this fan-shaped flower vase was quite rare in Dutch Delftware, and it served as the inspiration for the reasonably common English creamware and pearlware ‘quintel flower vases’ made in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
As time went on, the form of the flower vases became more complicated, more rows of spouts were added or the vases became taller. Especially the so-called pyramidal flower vases grew ever taller. These monumental obelisk-shaped vases, which consisted of four or more spouted spheres of decreasing size stacked on top of one another, were predominantly made for the Dutch and English courts of King William III and Queen Mary II. Although the term ‘flower pyramids’ is in fact incorrect, since in modern usage the preferable term is ‘flower obelisks’, such a distinction had not been made yet in the seventeenth century. The pyramid or obelisk, European in origin, was traditionally important as a symbol of power, and representing the fame and glory of a monarch, the pyramid was a favorite shape at European courts. Besides this European element, there were strong Oriental influences as well. Although, as far as we know, the Chinese had not created obelisk-shaped vases, the distinctive shape clearly was represented in the architecture of their tall pagodas. The Europeans, and among them the Delft potters, were fascinated by the famous ‘Porcelain Tower of Paolinxi’ in Nanjing: a nine-storey pagoda made entirely of porcelain with bells suspended from decorative projections at the corners of the roof of each storey. When the image of the pagoda is compared with the flower pyramids, the similarities are striking: not only their tall tapering shape, but also the roof projections, which can be seen to correspond with the spouts on each corner of the tiers. Furthermore, although possibly coincidental, the ‘Porcelain Tower of Paolinxi’ was nine storeys in height ‒ exactly the same as the number of tiers of the pyramid vases made by De Witte Ster (The White Star) factory around 1695. And finally, the strongest similarity is the use of the material: the genuine porcelain in China and ‘Hollandts porceleyn’ in Delft.
Furthermore, the potters in Delft made flower holders in the shape of figurines, which are distinguished from all the other kind of vases by their sculptural effect. Such holders range from the bust of male moors and to oriental-looking figures, both with spouts or with holes. An excellent example of this, is this blue and white figural flower-holder formed as a Chinese man with a bald head and goatee carrying a wicker pannier, which is pierced at the top with fourteen holes for flower stems. The source of this unusual model has not yet been discovered. Theoretically, the image of a figure with a pannier on his back refers to a European street vendor, and it is somewhat reminiscent of the Chantilly porcelain figure of a Hotteux (The Man with a Panier), circa 1750-55. However, the Chantilly model, possibly intended as a Turk, is wearing a turban, and his hands are not supporting his basket. The Delft model may have been based on a Chinese porcelain original, adapted by the Delft modeller to serve as a functional flower-holder rather than simply an ornamental figure.
As so many Delft objects, the shape and decoration of the flower vases reflects the taste for exotic cultures so typical of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They are the result of the fashion for chinoiserie and the for the potters so familiar Western – or Dutch – imagery.
 Van Dam, J.D. ‘Twee Vorstelijke Bloempiramides’, in Rijksmuseum Jaarverslag 2004. Zwolle / Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2005, p.57.
 Scholten, F. Delft ‘Tulip Vases’. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2013, p.14.
 Among them, De Grieksche A (The Greek A) factory had been producing flower vases as early as circa 1680, although these early examples were more modest in size than those made for King William III and Queen Mary one and two decades later. De Grieksche A, together with De Metaale Pot (The Metal Pot) factory, created the largest output of flower vases, and over a period of sixty years, from 1680 to 1740, they sold a multitude of different types of vases with spouts and holes. But in this production, they were joined by Het Jonge Moriaanshooft (The Young Moor’s Head), De Drie Posteleyne Astonne (The Three Porcelain Ash Barrels) and De Witte Ster (The White Star) factories, which during this period also made outstanding flower vases. Van Aken-Fehmers, M.S., and others (T.M. Eliëns, Ed.). Delfts Aardewerk Geschiedenis van een nationaal product: Vazen met tuiten, 300 jaar pronkstukken. Volume IV, Zwolle / Den Haag: Gemeentemuseum, 2007, pp. 14-16.
 Van Dam 2005 (note 1), p.57.
 Scholten 2013 (note 2), p.14.
 Van Aken-Fehmers 2007 (note 3), p. 205.
 Scholten 2013 (note 2), p.34.
 Van Aken-Fehmers 2007 (note 3), p.20.
 Scholten 2013, p.4.
 Images of this pagoda, engraved in the travel book by Johan Nieuhof (1618-1672), Het Gezantschap der Neêrlandtsche Oost-Indische Compagnie aan den grooten Tartarischen Cham, den tegenwoodigen Keizer van China…(An Embassy from the Netherlands East India Company to the Great Tartar Cham, the current Emperor of China…), (Amsterdam, 1665), which appeared along with various oriental objects, such as porcelain, for the first time in northern Europe with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or Dutch East India Company), sparked a vogue for Chinese-style objects. Brouwer, R.E. Bloempotten met Tuyten, Delftse Tulpenvazen 1680-1720. Delft: Gemeentemusea Delft, 1992, p. 6. and Scholten 2013 (note 2), p. 46.
 Scholten 2013 (note 2), p. 46.
 Van Aken-Fehmers 2007 (note 3), p. 239.