This tiered flower vase formed part of the magnificent collection of delftware and porcelain which furnished the ancient embattlemented Drayton House, Northamptonshire. Such a vase would have formed a centrepiece to the European and Asian ceramic collections at Drayton. Improvements to the house were carried out by both Henry Mordaunt, 2nd Earl of Peterborough (1621-1697) and Sir John Germaine Bt. (1650-1718), a Dutch soldier of fortune who was reputed half-brother of William III. It seems most probable that the current vase was introduced to Drayton by Lady Mary Mordaunt, Duchess of Norfolk - who married Sir John Germain in 1700 - as a tiered set of William III gilt-gesso hanging shelves attributed to Jean Pelletier, conceived for the display of numerous pieces of porcelain and proudly displaying the Duchess' Coronet - remain in the King's Bedchamber at Drayton. The aggrandisement of Drayton was directly influenced by the accession of William III and Queen Mary as joint sovereigns following the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. In the inventories of Drayton drawn up by Sir John and Lady Germain in 1710 and 1724 there are numerous mentions of blue and white porcelain and delft flower-pots. These include: 'In my Ladys Dressing Room over Jerusalem...One flower pot on black pedistall', and in the Long Gallery, 'Two Deff flower potts upon black pedistalls.' While the 1724 inventory includes 'In the brown parlour...no. 36...1 blew and white china flower pot'1. Although it is not possible to identify the current flower-vase definitively amongst these numerous references, the inventories give an indication of the prolific spending and redecoration carried out by Sir John and Lady Mary. The current vase, possibly a pair, or part of a garniture, would have enlivened a state room or apartment, perhaps placed on top of a cabinet, or when a fireplace was not in use, used to decorate the hearth during the summer months, with seasonal cut flowers from the gardens. These fashionable yet functional objects provide one of the best preserved documents on Anglo-Dutch taste in the William and Mary period.
De Grieke A factory, under the directorship of Adrianus Kocx was the supplier to many of the Royal and aristocratic households in both England and the Netherlands between 1687 and 1701. Queen Mary commissioned a large number of pieces from the factory during her time at Het Loo Palace in the Netherlands, before her departure for England. Improved methods of throwing enabled Delft manufacturers to produce large-scale objects of increasing complexity; the current lot consisting of five individual sections. The larger lower-section two-handled tier is in this instance incised with a I and the upper smaller two-handle tier is marked with a 2, thus aiding the assembly of the different components but also indicating which way the vases should be displayed if painted with different figural panels. A pair of pyramid-formed examples marked with the AK monogram, from the Blathwayt Collection at Dyrham Park, is similarly marked, see Michael Archer, 'Delft at Dyrham', National Trust Yearbook, 1975-76, no. 12-18.
The current vase bears the same kangxi-inspired panels of stylised flowerheads, or mons, alternating with panels of flowering shrubs, between bands of lappets and anthemion, as those found on a pair of ewers and stands and a snake-handled vase in Hampton Court, see Arthur Lane, 'Daniel Marot: Designer of Delft Vases and of Gardens at Hampton Court', The Connoisseur, no. 123, March 1949, pp. 19-24, nos. iv and v, and Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers et al., ibid, The Hague, 2007, p.40, pl.11. The similarity of the decoration to those at Hampton Court, and the possibility that they were supplied to Queen Mary before 1694 (when the Queen occupied the 'Water Gallery', a detached Tudor building which was at the south end of the Privy Garden, during renovations of the palace), might suggest that this vase is amongst several pieces of Delft forming part of a Royal commission. The death of Queen Mary in December 1694 resulted in the dispersal of her collection of Dutch Delft and Asian ceramics; these were gifted by William III to the Earl of Albermarle, whence they were removed either to his hunting lodge at De Voorst or to his townhouse at The Hague. Unfortunately a devasting fire at the Earl's townhouse resulted in the contents of his residence in De Voorst being sold off in 1744 and the fate of Queen Mary's extensive collection of Delft is not known. The similarity in terms of decoration and the Dutch connections between Sir John and William III suggest that the current vase could possibly have been a gift from William III to Sir John, perhaps on the occasion of his marriage in 1700.
Queen Mary's collection of Delft at Het Loo provided inspiration for a similar collection in England and her interest and involvement in the Delft industry combined with her passion for horticulture helped fuel the development of an extraordinary number of bizarre forms of flower vases. Today, flower vases of this type, remain preserved in some of the most important noble and Royal collections in the country. Ambitious and fashionable aristocratic households commissioned similar vases, including: the 1st Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth and John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim. No doubt, Sir John Germaine and Lady Mary were required to keep abreast of the current Dutch fashions should they receive a Royal visit. These elaborate tiered vases are often of pagoda, obelisk or octagonal-section in form, such as the pair in the Victoria and Albert Museum, illustrated by Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, et al., ibid (The Hague, 2007), p. 187, which is surmounted by a bust of Queen Mary. Alternately, a sectional oviform shape was produced, as with the example in the Devonshire Collection, see Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, et al., ibid. (The Hague, 2007), p.167, pl. 1.
A number of table-top sized 'bowl'-shaped flower vases with tall sides were produced at the Greek A factory. These were manfactured from moulds in varying sizes. The lower and upper two-handled 'bowl'-shaped sections in the current example adhere to this form. However, this particular flower-vase appears to be unique in that that are no other recorded examples with multiple-tiers. For an example of this form with 'seed' finial, see Marion S. Van Aken-Fehmers, et al ibid (The Hague, 2007), p. 148, cat no. 3.01, see also p. 149, cat no. 3.02 for a single-tiered bowl-formed vase with identical griffin handles in the Hamburg, Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe.
New and exotic plants fascinated the aristocracy during the time of William and Mary. Gardening and the cultivation of rare plants became a favoured pastime. Professor Pieter Hotton, in his inaugural lecture on 9th May 1695, applied this to Queen Mary: 'And we can safely say that the queen of England herself, the darling of the people, who recently passed away, was closely involved in the study of plants, that she did not deem it beneath her to use the same hand which she held the sceptre to work with the plants'2. In around 1600 a myriad of flowers from Asia started to make their way across the seas to Europe and by 1680 new methods of cultivation were developed to support exotic varieties of flowers. These flowers were closely studied and recorded in albums and drawings. New varieties of flowers from Turkey, Africa and America found their way in to the gardens of Europe3. One reason for this flourishing activity in the world of horticulture was the profitability of exporting plants from areas controlled by the VOC (Vereenigde Ooost Indische Compagnie, the Dutch United East India Company), where these new varieties became a very lucrative trading commodity. The cultivation of tulips in the Low Countries and the high prices paid for bulbs is now well-documented in the phenomena which has become known as 'tulipomania'. It is for this reason that these vases became incorrectly known as tulipières in the 19th century.
There are no known depictions of tulipières in still-life paintings of the period, however, baroque paintings of flowers do show full arrangements of many different varieties of flowers, so it seems very unlikely that such vases were used for just one species. One can learn more about the way in which these vases were used by looking at a needlework chair covering, dating from the early 18th century, which exists at Doddington Hall and a set of six similarly upholstered chairs at Croft Castle. This needlework illustrates how single blooms could be displayed to their full advantage. They could be positioned close to the vase, but yet they would not obscure the shape or ornament of the vessel. Giovanni Battista Ferrari's 1633 De Florum Cultura contains drawings of spouted vases in use, see Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, et al., ibid (The Hague, 2007), p 59, where a snake-handled spouted vase contains arrangements of daffodils, anemones, hyacinths and carnations, flowers common to both Holland and England in the late 17th century. His arrangements are symmetrical, but they do illustrate that several different varieties of flowers and foliage in a multitude of colours were placed in several tiers, with the uppermost flower frequently being a crown imperial lily because of its associations with divine supremacy. Ferrari also designed a number of internal water systems which could be cleverly concealed within a Delft framework of an obelisk, or oviform body, as here, thus stopping any water from escaping and allowing the flowers to flourish, see Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, et al., ibid. (The Hague, 2007), p. 60, pl. 22.
Fashionable tastes looked to the Orient for stylistic inspiration. The beautiful earthenware produced in Delft at this time rivalled Chinese export porcelain and came in equally bizarre shapes. The VOC imported Chinese porcelain into Europe and this was directly copied by Dutch delft manufacturers. The decorative devices used by the Chinese potters of the Wanli, Transitional and Kangxi periods were imitated, as seen on this example in the form of stylised mons alternating with flowering shrubs. The stag's head spouts on this vase are one of its most distinctive features. Appearing as a motif in early Chinese textiles, these did not became a feature in Chinese decorative arts until their appearance on metal work in the Tang dynasty (618-960) and later in the form of painted scraffito decoration in the Song (960-1279) and Yuan dynasties (1279-1368). It is not until the onset of the Qing dynasty in 1644 that stag heads were used as spouts or handles, from which this flower vase draws direct inspiration.
The fashion for tiered flower-vases of such elaborate form was heavily influenced by the court and considering how expensive such complex pieces must have been to produce, were only available to the very wealthy. The fashion for such vases was relatively short-lived and as Delft fell into decline as the leader in the European ceramics field so the royal patrons turned elsewhere. The style was not taken up by the English delftware manufacturers who, as the Hanoverians came to power, and fashions quickly changed, preferred to concentrate their efforts on producing pieces with a more restrained and austere feel, intended to compliment nature, in terms of beauty, rather than to rival it.
1. Tessa Murdoch (ed.), Noble Households: Eighteenth-Century Inventories of Great English Houses: a Tribute to John Cornforth (Cambridge, 2006) pp. 121, 124 & 131.
2. Hotton 1695, 31, recorded in Marion S. van Aken-Fehmers, et al, Dutch Delftware, a History of a National Product, Vases with Spouts, Three Centuries of Splendor (The Hague, 2007), Vol IX, pp. 53 & 54.
3. D. O. Wijnands, 'Hortus Auriaci: the Gardens of Orange and Their Place in Late 17th-Century Botany and Horticulture', Journal of Garden History, 1998, Vol. VIII, nos. 2 & 3, pp. 64 & 65.
We are extremely grateful to Dr. Bruce Bailey, Archivist at Drayton, for his assistance in researching this lot.
We are also extremely grateful to Mrs James Birch of Doddington Hall for her help in preparing this footnote.