The Flora Danica Dinner Service

The Flora Danica dinner service

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Royal residences in Copenhagen (Christiansborg, Amalienborg and Rosenborg).

Description: According to (disputed) tradition, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark commissioned the 1895-piece Flora Danica dinner service in 1790 as a gift for Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.  Frederik, the son of Christian VII of Denmark and Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, had ruled Denmark as regent since 1784, following the collapse of his father’s mental health; his mother – ‘poor Matilda’, as Wollstonecraft called her in her Letters written during a Short Residence (1796) – had been divorced and exiled from Denmark in 1772 when her affair with Johann Friedrich Struensee, the king’s physician, was exposed.  In 1790, Danish-Russian relations were reeling from the Russo-Swedish War (1788-90), during which Denmark-Norway declared its neutrality despite having committed to a defensive alliance with Russia under the Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo (1773). (1) Frederik’s extravagant gift, so the story goes, was intended to help patch the rift – and no doubt also to eclipse the 980-piece creamware ‘Frog Service’, which had been presented to Catherine the Great in 1774 by the Staffordshire-based Wedgwood Company.

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The Selborne Yew

The Selborne Yew

Contributor: Fiona Stafford

Location: St Mary’s Church, Selborne, Hampshire

Description: The great yew tree at Selborne features in one of the Romantic period’s best-known books: The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by the ‘parson-naturalist’ Gilbert White (1720-1793). First published in 1789, White’s account of his Hampshire parish has never gone out of print. But the long literary life of White’s book is as nothing to that of the ancient yew, which endured for centuries before being toppled by a January gale in 1990. The celebrity of the Selborne yew in the Romantic period may be seen as both idiosyncratic and as part of a wider celebration of ancient trees – and by extension ancient places and deep-rooted national culture — that especially characterised Romantic culture in Britain and across Europe.

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Chateaubriand’s Cedar

Contributor: Bernard Degout

Location: Domaine départemental de la Vallée-aux-Loups – maison de Chateaubriand

Description: This cedar of Lebanon (cedrus libani) was planted by Chateaubriand in the park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, which he laid out during the eleven years he stayed in the hamlet of Aulnay (1807-1817). Tracing broad pathways, flattening a hill, introducing “thousands” of green trees which had been gifted by friends or acquired from renowned horticulturists, the author amassed here, according to the document which he produced for the sale of his estate, “the most complete collection of planted trees, both exotic and natural, in the whole of France”. He also grouped trees which reminded him of his journeys to America (1791) and the Orient (1806-1807) around the perimeter of the central field. The park of La Vallée-aux-Loups, created by a writer-cum-traveller, is thus a literary park. But, in a way, it is also more than this.

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