Cape Dish

Artist/maker unknown, Dutch

Made in Delft, Netherlands, Europe


Tin-glazed earthenware with blue decoration

2 3/8 x 15 1/2 inches (6 x 39.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Edward Bok, 1936

Social Tags [?]

There are currently no user tags associated with this object.

[Add Your Own Tags]

This dish shows the strong influence of Ming dynasty Chinese porcelain of the Wanli period (1573–1620) on Delftware. Imported in ships that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, such wares are often referred to as “Cape” dishes. Alternately, these pieces are called “kraak” porcelain, a name derived from the type of Portuguese ship, a carrack, used to import them from China before the Dutch East India Company incorporated in 1602.

Additional information:
  • PublicationDelft Ceramics at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Chinese porcelain with segmented decorations featuring motifs in the style of the Wanli Period (1573 - 1620) are known as Cape dishes, or Kaapsche schotels, since they were imported in ships that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. Such plates and dishes with this segmented type of decoration are also know as kraak porcelain, a name derived from the carrack, the type of Portuguese ship that was used to import these porcelains from China before the Dutch East India Company was incorporated in 1602 (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1969-135-1). In the first half of the seventeenth century each ship could carry more than a hundred thousand pieces of porcelain together with other commodities. These popular porcelains sold for high prices at auctions in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century and inspired the exotic designs frequently imitated on earthenware from Delft, such as this example.

    This dish is painted a deep blue with foliate borders. The center depicts a decorated, overfilled flowerpot sitting on a very small table in front of a typical Chinese-type fence. Chinese symbols abound, although the Dutch painter would have used them for their decorative value alone. The bamboo tube and rods, which represent longevity, are shown on the left side, flanked by sunflowers or chrysanthemums. On the right is an artemisia leaf, an auspicious symbol meant to ward off evil spirits. A narrow border reminiscent of lotus petals frames the center. The full border is divided into sixteen alternating small and large panels that extend over the lip into the center of the dish. The eight wide panels are outlined in a lotus-petal pattern and decorated with stylized chrysanthemums or peaches. The chrysanthemum symbolizes the tenth month of the lunar calendar, and the peach symbolized immortality. The small panels contain abstractions of the Buddhist sacred tassels.

    The reverse of this dish has four blue stars alternating with four blue circles with dots in the center. This decoration is an extremely stylized derivative of the bottom of kraak plates imported from China. The reverse also bears four stilt, or proen, marks from the cones that supported the plates in the kiln to prevent them from fusing to one another during firing. The dish has a narrow foot rim. Ella B. Schaap, from Delft Ceramics at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2003), p. 70.