Flora Danica: A Royal Porcelain Service

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Of all the magnificent services from the 18th century, the Flora Danica porcelain service is the only one still in production. This magnificent service was created in what has since been named the Golden Age of porcelain. Today it is still considered one of the world´s most luxurious services.


In 1790, 15 years after the company was established in 1775, and in the midst of the era called ‘the Golden Age of porcelain’ Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory began to produce a very special service.


It is said that is was commissioned by the Danish King, Christian VII, who wanted a porcelain service so beautiful and rare that it would gain a place among the Russian Empress Catherine II’s large porcelain collection. But then the Empress died in 1796 before the great work was finished. The service therefore remained with the Royal Danish Household and today belongs to H.M. Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.


Royal Copenhagen Flora DanicaPictured right: An artist painting the Flora Danica design.

The service’s name and decorations stem from the botanical work Flora Danica whose 51 volumes and total of 3.060 coloured copper prints were issued in the period 1761-1883. The wide-ranging work reproduced in minute detail the Danish flora. The great task of transcribing the decorations to the porcelain became the life’s work of one man – Johann Christoph Bayer. He undertook the majority of the painting of the 1,802 pieces. A task which took him 12 years. The copper prints were carefully copied onto the porcelain and if he was in doubt about any detail he sent a messenger to the Botanical Gardens. He would then study the plant to ensure that the reproduction was correct.

Flora DanicaThus the porcelain’s decoration became detailed botanical studies. Then as now without an equal. To this day the decorations are hand-painted from the old copper-prints which lie on the porcelain painter’s table just as they did 200 years ago.

Pictured left: An artist working on a Flora Danica Ice Dome.

60 years went by before yet another Flora Danica Service was made at the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory. The occasion was the Danish Princess Alexandra’s wedding to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII of England. The service was to be a wedding present from Danish women to their Princess. This service is today part of the English Queen Elisabeth II’s collection at Windsor castle.

Flora DanicaOf the original 1802 pieces of Flora Danica porcelain 1530 still exists. HM Queen Margrethe II still uses part of the 200 years old service on special occasions.

Pictured right: A Flora Danica Ice Dome.

200 years of Craftsmanship and Traditions

How is it that Flora Danica could survive two centuries of change and still be considered one of the most precious porcelain services in the world?

Flora DanicaThe answer can probably be found in the combination of cultural heritage and quality which has always been a distinguishing feature of Flora Danica. Take for example the production of one item, the 28 cm tall so-called Ice Dome, which, as far as we know, is only made by Royal Copenhagen. It involves 16 different processesand it takes a month to complete an Ice Dome.

Pictured left: Closeup detail of the Flora Danica

First the modeller cuts out edges and patterns in the still wet and malleable porcelain mass. The modeller needs a steady hand – one wrong cut and the work has do be rejected. Next leaves, stems and flower buds are attached by hand and the Ice Dome is ready for its first firing in the porcelain kiln. Then the glaze is put on and the Ice Dome is fired once more. Between each process the work is carefully controlled so only the perfect ones go through.

Now the porcelain painter paints, free hand, the flower motifs on the Dome. After each colour it is fired before the next colour or nuances can be painted. On the work table in front of her/him the porcelain painter has one of the old copper-prints. The plant’s Latin name is written on the bottom of the Dome next to the painter’s initials.

Do the Craftsmen’s Traditions have a Future?

Here in the 21st century we can ask ourselves why Royal Copenhagen continues with elaborate and costly craftsmanship traditions. The reason is that competently executed, old virtues and values become more and more important in our hi-tech age. Values we cannot live without. What do we offer the modern person, who, in this age of excess and mass-production, is afraid to loose the connection to some valuable life qualities?

It is considerations such as these which lie behind Royal Copenhagen’s philosophy. Danish decorative art industry places great demands on both design and production. The prerequisite is that the craftsmen’s traditions are projected and protected, and that the know-how is kept at a high level.

Images and text courtesy of the The Offiicial Royal Copenhagen Web Site


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