Museum Prinsenhof


Silver, Masterpieces of Delft silver 1590-1800

1 June 2020 through 3 January 2021

In the early 17th century, Delft silver was among the finest in the Low Countries. For the first time in 50 years, the Museum Prinsenhof Delft is presenting an overview of the most beautiful silver objects produced in Delft. A total of 80 masterpieces from the period when the art of Delft silversmiths flourished will be on display: showpieces like nautilus cups, drinking bowls and unique table ornaments from the 17th century, as well as showpieces for tea and dining ceremonies, and precious 18th century toilet services. Highlights from the museum’s own leading collection of silver will be supplemented with exceptional pieces on loan from both foreign and Dutch collections. Immerse yourself in a unique spectacle of silver, discover why the art of silver was often more highly valued in the 17th century than the art of painting and how silver has been connecting generations with each other for decades.

Delft masterpieces

In 1572, during the Dutch Revolt (1568-1648), William the Silent fled to Delft. The consequences for Delft were significant. In William’s wake, a number of leading silversmiths came to Delft from Antwerp. After all, where the court was, the commissions were, too. The strictly organised guild of Delft silversmiths could now produce work of the highest quality. From the late 16th century through the middle of the 17th century, absolute masterpieces were made in Delft. Pre-eminent masters like father and son Nicolaes and Adriaen de Grebber created splendid goblets, nautilus cups and table ornaments for the elite. These silver masterpieces were the centrepieces of magnificent receptions. In the 18th century, silversmiths like Cornelis van Dijck and Dirk van de Goorberg supplied the beau monde of Delft with the highest quality silver after the latest European fashion. The wine coolers, candlesticks, tureens, bread baskets and also cutlery and servers ensured a glittering reception for the guests.

At the heart: social function

Silver has been marking important events in life, giving meaning to the social flux and connecting generations to each other, up to the present day. The social function of the objects on display will therefore be at the heart of the exhibition. Why were these works produced? Why was the Dutch bourgeoisie willing to spend so much on these showpieces? What were they trying to express with them, and how did this initiate the unprecedented flourishing of the craft in Delft? The exhibition will provide answers to all of these questions, on the basis of four themes: showing off, receiving, connecting and celebrating. Ample attention will also be paid to the production process and the quality of a number of masterpieces. In a short film, visitors will be challenged to consider the (emotional) value of silver. In a short film, owners of silver discuss the important role these silver objects play within their families. Visitors will thus be challenged to consider the (emotional) value of silver.


During the course of the exhibition, lectures, (open) guided tours and a silver-polishing day are being planned, among other things. The Museum Prinsenhof Delft will also organise an open house for residents of Delft in which the museum, inspired by the 17th and 18th centuries' receptions, will engage in a dialogue with the residents.