Royal Copenhagen has been producing porcelain dinnerware, plates, cups, bowls and figurines since 1775 – the year when the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory first saw the light of day.
It was agreed from the outset that the greater proportion of porcelain produced would be painted blue before glazing.
This proved the most economical method, since underglaze porcelain demands only one firing – however at a very high temperature (1,400 degrees Celsius) required to fuse the porcelain paste and the glaze. At this time only cobalt blue could withstand such a high temperature. Since then it has become the factory’s mark of distinction.
The first dinner service pattern to be selected was Blue Fluted. This was a popular pattern in Europe’s first porcelain manufactories. Since the taut stylised floral motive originated in China, it was considered the epitome of genuine porcelain. At Royal Copenhagen we continue to paint the pattern by hand, even today. Therefore, Blue Fluted would gradually become synonymous with Danish porcelain.
A period of blossoming followed. The manufactory’s clientele were predominantly the royal family and the nobility. Porcelain was a prestigious status symbol in the 1700s. Commissions for coffee and tea services, not to mention large, elaborate vases, ran to sums that today would be computed in millions. Porcelain was principally commissioned as gifts for family members and foreign monarchs. The works produced were richly decorated in multicoloured overglaze and delicately modelled details.
The largest and most renowned of these commissions was the exquisite Flora Danica dinner service. It was commissioned in 1790 by the Danish king, according to legend for Catherine the Great of Russia. Danish flora was reproduced on the porcelain, copying the copperplates published in one of the Age of Enlightenment’s greatest botanical works, Flora Danica. When the service was delivered to the royal family, 12 years later, it comprised 1,802 pieces. The service was revived for the marriage of Princess Alexandra of Denmark to the future King Edward VII of England in 1863. Flora Danica is still painted by hand today at Royal Copenhagen.
The Golden age & Hetsch (1800-1850)
During what has come to be termed the Golden Age of Danish culture, which lasted until the mid-1800s, the porcelain manufactory again flourished and its production range was influenced by the classical ideals of the era.
The period’s trend-setting architect, G.F. Hetsch, was the porcelain manufactory’s artistic director. He assigned several artists to the factory, notably the flower painter J.L. Jensen, who distinguished himself with his multicoloured overglaze paintings. Hetsch designed several neo-classical services and elaborate vases richly ornamented in gold. He often found inspiration, as was customary at the time, in foreign styles, patterns and colours. But he inevitably refined the style in his endeavour to find ‘purity’, which for him was the distinguishing feature of Danish porcelain and therefore essential to national identity in this period, when the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory’s role as the nation’s flagship was growing.
The porcelain manufactory’s artistic performance was raised to such a pitch under Hetch’s leadership that in 1851 the factory qualified to participate in its first official exhibition, the World Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, London.