Would you Adam and Eve it!

This week’s object is a vibrant and characterful English delft charger made in Brislington, Bristol in about 1750-1800. It depicts the biblical story of the temptation of Adam and Eve. It is on display in A Living Landscape/ Medieval People/ Everyday Life gallery.

What was delftware?

Delftware is a type of earthenware with a tin-glaze. The Italian master potter Guido da Savino (fl. 1512-1541) first brought the technique northward to Antwerp, Belgium in the 16th century, helping to popularize it.

In the late 16th century Belgian potters took the technique to the Netherlands with the city of Delft becoming the centre of production. This type of pottery is known by several names: delftware; delft or delft blue (named lastly after its iconic blue colour).

Delftware, a success story

The success of delftware lay in its glazing technique, combined with the entrepreneurial skills of Dutch ceramic makers and its incredible diversity of form. The use of tin-glazing was unique in creating a brilliant white uniform surface which was a perfect blank canvas for ornamental designs, imitating highly regarded and expensive Chinese porcelain.

The most celebrated period of production spanned from 1640-1740. Highly sought after it was a major industry and exported throughout Europe. Delftware is still in production today.

English delftware

English delftware has been described as ingenious, direct and occasionally eccentric. It has a more relaxed tone than Dutch delftware and is naïve and provincial in style. The methods of production were much less sophisticated. English makers very rarely used the transparent overglaze applied by the Dutch and Italian makers.

This charger was made in Brislington, Bristol between 1750-1800. Bristol alongside London and Liverpool were the main centres of English delftware production. Other smaller centres included: Wincanton; Glasgow and Dublin.

It is not a rare survivor. Many of these chargers were kept as decorations on walls and dressers aiding their high survival rate. This type of charger is known as a blue-dash charger. Its name coming from the slanted blue dashes found around its edge. These chargers were very desirable and were a symbol of status. Usually 25-35 cm in diameter they were decorated with religious, abstract, floral, topographical and political subjects.

(WESTM : 1938.1)

This charger shows the typical use of brush and sponge work and is characterised by a rapid rushed feel that is more and more apparent in these chargers as the 18th century progressed.

Adam and Eve and the temptation was one of the more popular designs and was produced between 1635 and 1800. 11 different schemes have been recorded from 5 variations of this design. Pictured is Adam and Eve with the serpent and tree of life set in the garden of Eden. This design was one of the most popular and is thought to be based loosely on the engraving of Adam and Eve by Pièrre Lombart, 1612. The depiction of Adam and Eve changed dramatically over the years and became more and more grotesque as it was copied by less and less competent artists. Here the snake has become almost cipher like with a swirling cobalt-blue line suggesting its form.

These chargers fell out of favour at the end of the 17th century. At this time there was a change of taste for lighter and more informal design as reflected in the growing taste for Chinosère decoration.