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Equestrian Elegance

Delft Faience Horses as Art and Symbol

Fig. 1 Two Black Delftware Horses, one marked LVE for Lambertus van Eenhoorn, owner of De Metaale Pot (the Metal Pot) from 1691-1721, Private collection, ex collection Aronson, Amsterdam

Horses have forged a unique and enduring connecting with humans due to their  remarkable blend of intelligence, elegance, and strength. Initially hunted, the horse earned admiration, prompting humans to recognize their utility. Over time, horses became invaluable as diligent workers, a source of pleasure in sports, and even as captivating performers in shows. These qualities rendered them a cherished subject in art, and also in Delft. This article explores the social and cultural significance of the horse in seventeen and eighteenth-century Dutch society and examines its reflection within the Delft pottery industry.

 

The Evolution of the Horse’s Status in Europe

The transformation of the horse’s role was initiated by the Italian elite in the early sixteenth century. Elite boys cultivated their equestrian skills in specialized riding academies, focusing on dressage.(1) This trend quickly spread across Europe, leading to the establishment of equestrian schools. While the primary objective of equestrian training was the preparation for warfare, riders also refined skills to discipline and control their horse. Although the blend of utility and aesthetics turned out to be inefficient on the battlefield, it was regarded a symbol of profound skill, as emphasized by a quote from Federico Grisone from 1550: “In the art of warfare, there is no discipline of greater beauty than that of horses”.(2)

During periods of peace in France, equestrian ballets or carousels served as both training exercises and extravagant displays of entertainment and opulence. Evolving from medieval jousts where cavaliers showcased their skills in various games, equestrian ballets represented a distinct departure. These events seamlessly blended high-level entertainment, featuring music, singing, and costume drama. Elaborate attire was not limited to the riders; even the horses were adorned in intricate and ornate outfits, adding to the overall splendor of the spectacle (fig. 2). In 1662, Louis XIV celebrated the birth of the Dauphine with a grandiose event called ‘Le Grand Carousel,’ held in the square between the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre, now known as Place du Carrousel. Young French noblemen prepared for this game by spearing rings while riding legless wooden horses on a rotating platform. The spectacle evolved into popular entertainment, with practice horses adorned in lavish paint and decorations, mirroring the splendor of public cavalry displays.(3)

Fig. 2 ‘Monsieur’ Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, brother of Louis XIV, dressed as the king of Persia, engraving by Francois Chauveau, illuminated by Jacques Bailly, from Courses de testes et baque faites [ar le Roy et par les princes et seigneurs de sa cour en l’année M.DC.IXII, Paris 1670

The fervor for horses also reached England, where it captivated aristocracy. Hunting and horse racing were immensely popular leisure activities among the upper echelons of society. Horses, in turn, became true status symbols.

The horse not only emerged in high society in Europe, they also gained importance in agriculture. Until the seventeenth century, oxen were the primary force behind heavy agricultural labor. They were initially favored over horses, because once oxen were incapable of handling fieldwork, they were fattened and utilized for meat. Oxen were also inherently stronger than the horses commonly owned by farmers during that era. Horses primarily performed lighter agricultural duties such as pulling light carts and harrowing.

Although there were horses capable of heavy farm work during this period, they were not typically owned by the average farmer. Instead, these robust horses were reserved for warfare and served as draft horses for royal families, often under the ownership of nobility. The population of large horses increased in the eighteenth century, and they became more accessible to farmers. This shift marked the replacement of oxen by horses. It was further driven by the demand for more intelligent animals due to the introduction of advanced machinery and agricultural tools in farming practices.(4)

The horse evolved from merely a working animal to a creature valued for his military and agricultural capacities, recreation and sports. Their importance as status symbol is beautifully reflected in the following quote from Diana Vreeland: A man mounted on his horse, is twice the man he is on the ground”.(5)

The Horse in Fine Art

The importance of the horse was also reflected in art. For example, horse portraiture established itself as a distinct sub-genre within the eighteenth-century British art tradition. A testament to the prominence of equine art is found in a 1755 publication where horse painters were categorized separately, underscoring the recognition of painting horses as a specialized skill.(6) The visual appeal of horses also gained increasing significance. The most recognized English horse painter was George Stubbs (1724-1806), whose enchanting portrayals continue to be highly valued today in both museums and private collections.

The Dutch also had their own accomplished horse portraitist in the seventeenth century, Philips Wouwerman (1619-1668) from Haarlem. Esteemed as “that shining diamond in the Crown of noble Painting” by his fellow townsman, the humanist, writer, and poet Theodorus Schrevelius (1572-1649), Wouwerman was described as unparalleled in his artistry.(7) Notably, his works held greater value than even those of renowned artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer during his time. Wouwerman’s oeuvre extended far beyond horses; he also showcased the versatility of his artistic prowess in landscape and historic scenes.(8)

The Horse as a Subject in Delft Faience

Horses initially served a practical purpose in the Delft pottery industry; they functioned as diligent workers and essential members of the production team. An inventory from 1621 of the ‘De Romyn’ pottery (1606-1774) documents a ‘lively horse used for the mill,’ valued at 40 guilders.(9) Similarly, in 1636, another inventory notes the presence of a two-year-old gray stallion associated with the paint mill.(10) However, their utilitarian role did not catalyze the development of model horses in Delft. It took nearly a century for horse models to become fashionable.

Despite the almost complete absence of Delft faience horse figures, they consistently appeared on tiles and occasionally on dishes from the early seventeenth century, reflecting a lasting appreciation for these animals and their significant role in everyday life. The first Delft model horses emerged in the second half of the seventeenth century. An intriguing example of an early horse can be found in a so-called ring flask in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, dated 1658, where a horse model is mounted in the open belly of the flask.(11) Additionally, two early black Delft horse figurines are known (fig. 1), with one of them bearing the mark ‘LVE’ for Lambertus van Eenhoorn, the owner of De Metaale Pot (the Metal Pot) from 1691 to 1721.(12) These exclusive figurines were likely among the very first created in Delft.

Fig. 3 Blue and White model of a show horse, marked for Jacob van der Kool owner of the De Grieksche A from 1722-1758, Private collection, ex. collection Aronson, Amsterdam

The works of Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775), the head modeler at the German porcelain factory Meissen between 1733 and 1775, generated interest in animal ceramics. The figurines he created were modeled after the sugar table ornaments that were popular European status symbols since the thirteenth century. When sugar became less expensive and more readily available, a new status symbol was needed. Porcelain, often referred to as “white gold,” proved to be the ideal material for embellishing the tables of the elite. As early as the 1730s, Kändler crafted animal figures for the Japanese palace of Augustus II the Strong (1670-1733), the Emperor of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania.(13) Augustus was the primary catalyst behind the production of these figures. Regrettably, it remains unknown whether there was a comparable impetus in Delft from an individual actively advocating for the promotion of figures, such as horses.

While the clientele for horse portraits in England is relatively well-defined, it is less apparent who purchased Delft horse figures. Estate inventories indicate that animal models were primarily decorative, adorning tables or mantelpieces.(14) Their decorative function might initially indicate that the figurines were acquired by affluent individuals, not necessarily enthusiasts of horses. The classification of Delft horses into various types however, suggests specific interests among clientele and may reveal valuable insights into the origin of interest in these horses.

Fig. 4 D1343 Pair of Polychrome Delft figures of riding horses. Aronson Collection, Amsterdam

This unique pair of riding horses (fig. 4) for example, distinguished by their realistic and precious brown coloration, hints at an owner of higher social standing. The modest, functional tack suggests that the horses were used for hunting or racing.

The previously mentioned inventories, along with marked objects, offer insights into the date of production. For example, an inventory from 1758, conducted after the passing of Cornelia van Willingen, the proprietor of ‘De Griekse A’ (The Greek A), as featured in the article ‘Leading Ladies’, enumerates various horse models in her pottery shop. These include both recumbent and standing horses, available in two different sizes; small and large. However, specific details regarding the exterior of these models are not provided. Intriguingly, many of these horse figurines shared display space with cows, hinting at a potential agricultural context.(15)

Horses played a vital role in agriculture, and must have been valued for that. However,  the surviving Delft horse figures deviate from the typical appearance of a workhorse. The prevalence of horses adorned with saddles, sometimes elaborately embellished (with or without horsemen) implies a focus on sport, hunting, military and entertainment functions.

The Blue and White model of a show horse (fig. 3), bearing the mark of Jacob van der Kool, owner of De Grieksche A (The Greek A) from 1722-1758, offers compelling evidence suggesting that these figurines were crafted even before the horses noted in the 1758 inventory, potentially as early as the first half of the eighteenth century.

While the previously mentioned pair of riding horses (fig. 4) can be identified as for sport or hunting, appealing to clients engaged in these activities, another pair (fig. 5) presents markedly more adornment. The lavish decoration suggests that the pair depicts (military) entertainment horses. It was previously assumed that the horses represented circus performers, however the evidence above indicates that they predate the emergence of the circus in 1770. Consequently, it is more plausible that Delft potters found inspiration in the elaborate carousels or equestrian ballets. Beyond their general decorative function, these figurines might have specifically appealed to a military clientele.

 

Fig. 5 Pair of Polychrome Models of Horses, Delft, circa 1760. Private collection, ex collection Aronson

Summary

Delft horse figures were initially introduced on a modest scale in the late seventeenth century. They gained popularity around the mid-eighteenth century, driven by the increasing admiration for horses in general and the widespread appeal of Meissen porcelain figurines. While detailed sources are lacking, it is conceivable that the various horse models in Delft faience catered to different groups of customers, predominantly within the higher social circles where individuals with a fondness for horses were prevalent. However, due to their highly decorative nature, the appeal may have extended to a much broader audience; a recognition these figurines undoubtedly deserve.

 

 

 

Notes

  1. Jessica Goethals, The Patronage Politics of Equestrian Ballet: Allegory, Allusion, and Satire in the Courts of Seventeenth-Century Italy and France, in: ‘Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4, Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 1406
  2. Federico Grisone was a nobleman from Naples, and influential dressage master and author of the bestseller ‘Gli ordini di cavalcare’ (The Rules of Riding), one of the first works on horsemanship, dating from 1550
  3. Kat Eschner, ‘The Dizzy History of Carousels Begins With Knights’, in: ‘Smithsonian Magazine’, July 25, 2017 (link to article)
  4. M. de Weerd en J.K. Oldenbroek, ‘Het paard in Nederland’, Wageningen, CGN/Stichting DLO, 2010, p. 12
  5. Alexander Mackay-Smith, Jean R. Druesedow, Thomas Ryder, ‘Man and the Horse. An illustrated history of equestrian apparel’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Simon and Schuster, Ney York, 1984, p. 8
  6. M. Rouquet, ‘The Present state of the Arts in England’, J. Nourse, London, 1755, p. 58
  7. S. Kalff, ‘Eene Haarlemsche schildersfamilie’ in Onze Eeuw. Maandschrift voor staatkunde, letteren, wetenschap en kunst. Jaargang 17, deel 1, De erven F. Bohn, Haarlem, 1917, p. 458
  8. Te paard! De wereld van Philips Wouwerman, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Press release, July 2009
  9. Wik  Hoekstra-Klein, ‘De Romeyn 1606-1774, De Ham 1639-1726.’ Deel 13,Geschiedenis Van De Delftse Plateelbakkerijen, Projectgroep Delfts Aardewerk, Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof Delft, Delft, 2006, p. 51
  10. Idem.
  11. Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, Loet A. Schledorn, A.-G. Hesselink, T.M. Eliëns,  ‘Delfts Aardewerk. Geschiedenis van een Nationaal Product‘, Volume I, Zwolle/Den Haag, 1999, p. 146
  12. Rijksmuseum Collection, inv. nr. BK-NM-12400-78
  13. 14, Marion S. van Aken Fehmers, ‘”As fine as that imported from China”. A closer look at Dutch Black Delftware (1700-1740), in: Aronson 125-Anniversary Dutch Delftware, Aronson Antiquairs, Amsterdam, 2006
  14. Hugo Moreley-Fletcher, ‘Meissen’,Barrie & Jenkins, London, 1971, p. 49
  15. Aronson Antiquairs, ‘A pair of blue and white seated dogs’, online publication
  16. 16. Van Aken-Fehmers, 1999, p. 152 and Van Aken-Fehmers, 2001, pp. 221-222

Literature

Aken-Fehmers, Marion S. van, ‘”As fine as that imported from China”‘. A closer look at Dutch Black Delftware (1700-1740), in: Aronson 125-Anniversary Dutch Delftware, Aronson Antiquairs, Amsterdam, 2006

Aken-Fehmers, Marion S. van, Loet A. Schledorn, A.-G. Hesselink, T.M. Eliëns,  ‘Delfts Aardewerk. Geschiedenis van een Nationaal Product‘, Volume I, Zwolle/Den Haag, 1999

Eschner, Kat, ‘The Dizzy History of Carousels Begins With Knights’, in: ‘Smithsonian Magazine’, July 25, 2017

Goethals, Jessica, ‘The Patronage Politics of Equestrian Ballet: Allegory, Allusion, and Satire in the Courts of Seventeenth-Century Italy and France’, in: Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 70, No. 4, Cambridge University Press, 2017

Hoekstra-Klein, Wik, ‘De Romeyn 1606-1774, De Ham 1639-1726.’ Deel 13, Geschiedenis Van De Delftse Plateelbakkerijen, Projectgroep Delfts Aardewerk, Stedelijk Museum Het Prinsenhof Delft, Delft, 2006

Kalff, S. ‘Eene Haarlemsche schildersfamilie’ in Onze Eeuw. Maandschrift voor staatkunde, letteren, wetenschap en kunst. Jaargang 17, deel 1, De erven F. Bohn, Haarlem, 1917, p. 458

Mackay-Smith, Alexander, Jean R. Druesedow, Thomas Ryder, ‘Man and the Horse. An illustrated history of equestrian apparel’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Simon and Schuster, Ney York, 1984

Mauritshuis, ‘Te paard! De wereld van Philips Wouwerman’, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Press release, July 2009

Moreley-Fletcher, Hugo, ‘Meissen’,Barrie & Jenkins, London, 1971

Rouquet, M, ‘The Present state of the Arts in England’, J. Nourse, London, 1755

Weerd, M. de, en J.K. Oldenbroek, ‘Het paard in Nederland’, Wageningen, CGN/Stichting DLO, 2010, p. 12

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