By Charlotte Jul, skribent, editor and curator, 2006
A dinner service fir for kings
Flora Danica - dating from 1790 - is a unique dinner service decorated with more than 700 Danish plant motifs. During the Age of Enlightenment, there was a fascination with the new science of botany. This was apparent in cultural life in general, hence the lifelike depiction of the plants on the service.
Flora Danica is decorated and gold-plated by hand with handles and lids also hand-moulded. It is a dinner service fit for kings and queens, a point proved when it was commissioned by Denmark’s King Christian VII in the 18th century as a gift for Catherine the Great of Russia. The Empress died before the dinner service was complete, which was a blessing in disguise, because then it remained in Denmark. Today, the original service can be studied in the basement of Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
Inspiration and decoration
Imagine being allowed to eat lasagne off such a plate! Flora Danica got a new image in 1863, when the least appetising flower motifs were omitted. The dinner service has been in production ever since - at prices ranging from DKK 2,100 to DKK 182,900, Flora Danica is the Rolls-Royce of dinner services. Incredibly, it is still in demand more than 200 years after it was designed, with sales running into millions worldwide. The Flora Danica dinner service is proof that good workmanship and rich decoration are not mutually exclusive. There is an interest in both today with the revival of decoration and patterns and people’s taste for mixing antiques, flea market bargains and designer items to express a more personal lifestyle.
Nature was the direct source of inspiration of the detailed patterns of Flora Danica. In Spain, nature was an inexhaustible source of inspiration for architect and designer Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), among others. Gaudí modelled his spectacular buildings and mosaics on the soft and colourful shapes of nature. If you have ever visited Guell Park in Barcelona, where the park furniture is incorporated in the landscape, you will understand why. In 1930s Denmark, textile designer Marie Gudme Leth was deeply inspired by the Flora Danica dinner service, and recently clothes designer Anette Meyer has created dresses with Flora Danica motifs.
Did you know?
At a single table in 1841 it went a little too wild, and 32 plates of the original Flora danica frame were broken. The frame was only used for special events, such as gala tables, birthdays and weddings. Originally it consisted of 1802 parts - today there are about 1500 of the original parts left.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Design and Arts, 2006
In 1752, G. C. Oeder became the Royal Professor of Botany on the recommendation of Bernstorff, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had studied in Göttingen and then became a doctor of medicine in Schleswig. But it was in Copenhagen that his legacy was created. Immediately after his appointment, he began planning a book, Flora Danica, and a Botanical Garden on Amaliegade. Both would map Danish flora, which at that time included the flora of the Duchies, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
While working as a botanist, he wrote about the conditions of peasants, and he became a member of the National Commission, the Finance Council and the Finance College. When Struensee fell in 1772, and his councils and appointments were withdrawn, Oeder was expelled to Oldenburg, and in 1776 it was decided that only ‘real’ Danes could have political influence. But Oeder’s great botanical work continued.
In 1790, it was decided to give the Russian Empress a dinner set made at the new royal porcelain factory. The Empress Catherine II died in 1796 before the 1802 pieces of the set were finished, so Denmark still has the original at Rosenborg Castle, and copies are still produced today. An existing format, Pearl, was used, and Johann Christoph Bayer decorated the pieces with full-sized plants from the flora. The current version is “sweeter” than the original version, but it’s still a provocative and strange porcelain. The fashion designer Annette Meyer recently used the illustrations in an unusual paper project.