Beautiful objects in Chinese porcelain bearing Dutch family coats of arms give us a glimpse into the Netherlands’ glorious past as a seafaring and trading nation. The exhibition Presenting Arms has been made possible by the Asian ceramics partnership. The partnership, whose members are the Groninger Museum, the Keramiekmuseum Het Princessehof, the Rijksmuseum and the Gemeentemuseum, stages an exhibition once every four years highlighting some aspect of Oriental porcelain.
Chinese porcelain was very popular in Europe in the eighteenth century, and millions of items were exported to the West by the various European East India Companies and by private traders. Alongside standard dinner services, special pieces were also commissioned. They were known as Chine de commande, and included porcelain bearing family crests. It is estimated that as many as 600 to 700 armorial dinner services were produced in China for the Dutch market. They were commissioned by Dutch East India Company officials, seafarers and also by administrators and merchants in the Netherlands. Famous examples include those made for Jan Albert Sichterman (1692-1764) and Adriaan Valckenier (1695-1741). During his 28-year career with the East India Company in Bengal, Sichterman became a wealthy man, mainly thanks to his business acumen. He displayed his wealth on a grand scale with his expensive clothes, his large entourage of servants and slaves, his opulent banquets with magnificent glass and silverware, and the ‘Sichterman porcelain’. The Groninger Museum has a large proportion of the porcelain in its collection. Adriaan Valckenier – governor-general of the East Indies from 1737 to 1741 – owned the largest collection of Dutch armorial porcelain. Though a shipwreck off the Shetland Islands in 1741 consigned 2377 pieces to the seabed, 1000 to 1200 items from Valckenier’s unique collection were fortunately preserved.
The exhibition was prompted by the publication in 2007 of a unique and impressive reference work on Chinese porcelain adorned with Dutch family crests by Dr. Jochem Kroes (b. 1951), entitled Chinese Armorial Porcelain for the Dutch Market. Dr. Kroes works for the Central Bureau for Genealogy, and is editor of Nederland’s Patriciaat, which lists Dutch patrician families. His book showcases over 450 China dinner services, each featuring a different Dutch family crest. Sixty examples, most consisting of several items from each set, will be on show in the exhibition in The Hague.
Ceramics periodical Vormen uit vuur is to publish a special edition in which some of the items in the exhibition will be discussed in detail