British Museum collections, £12.99
Diameter: 220.000 mm
Gift of Sir A.W. Franks
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Set of 12 Delftware plates painted by Sir James Thornhill
Delft, Holland, AD 1711
12 signs of the zodiac
Holland was the main centre of production of tin-glazed earthenware in northern Europe in the late sixteenth century. The town of Delft was the most prominent by the 1650s, and gave its name to wares which are commonly known as 'Delftware', even though produced elsewhere. To avoid confusion, wares made in the town of Delft are often called 'Dutch Delft'. Tin-glazed earthenware was originally produced in imitation of the brilliant whiteness of Chinese porcelain: the dark-coloured clay pot is dipped into a glaze, opacified with tin oxide, and the resultant white surface can then be decorated before being fired again. By the eighteenth century, enamel colours were being used over the already-fired white glaze. There is no margin for error in painting on Delftware, as mistakes cannot be corrected.
Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734) was the leading English decorative painter of the early eighteenth century, working in a lively baroque style. He visited the Netherlands and Paris in 1711, and it was during this time that he painted the zodiac plates in the allegorical manner with which he was familiar. It is rare to find tin-glazed earthenware painted by such celebrated artists, and it is most probable that Thornhill painted these plates for himself. Thornhill was the father-in-law of William Hogarth (1697-1764), the renowned painter and engraver, and these plates passed into Hogarth's collection.
K. Fremantle (ed.), Sir J. T.s sketchbook travel j (Utrecht, 1975)
H.P. Fourest, Delftware: faience productions (London, Thames and Hudson, 1980)