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Royal Dining at the Court of King Frederick the Great
For those fortunate enough to be invited to dine at the table of King on those at Versailles would await. Frederick the Great had such an admiration for all things French that even his meals took their cue from the lavish services of Louis XIV. In this he was not unique, for most of the great courts of Europe looked to Versailles, if not politically then at least in subjects of fashion. A la mode in France, and therefore at the court in Prussia in the eighteenth century, was service à la Française, the pattern for which had developed through several centuries, culminating in the banquets held at the court of Louis XIV. The accepted mode of service also had its own variations. At Versailles, Louis XIV's dining possibilities ranged from the eight or more courses of the 'Royal Feast' through five variations of 'le grand couvert', or 'the grand place-setting', to two of 'le petit couvert', each with its own nuances. These formats were adopted to varying degrees throughout Europe to suit any number of occasions from state dining to intimate personal dinners.
Service à la Française had its roots in the medieval feast comprising several courses, each of which consisted of a great number of varied dishes set out at the same time on a large table. Diners seated around the banquet table could help themselves to food from those serving-dishes closest to them. Although there was an army of servants and footmen present, their function was primarily to clean and present wine-glasses and to place and remove serving-dishes rather than to pass dishes once they had been set upon the table. In fact it was considered incorrect for a footman to touch a serving-dish once it had been placed in its position. For practical reasons this meant that several dishes of the same food were placed at various points, so that no matter where a diner was seated he had a good selection. As the possibilities for display and grandeur at such feasts presented themselves, dishes were set out in symmetrical and increasingly intricate patterns, templates for which began to appear in courtly cookbooks and household management manuals.
The pleasures of a formal dinner increased with the discovery of exotic foods and spices through trade and travel. Refinements of the Baroque era included the addition of the three tined fork, which was introduced from Italy as a utensil for eating meat. Whereas previously it had been the fashion to carry one's own personal canteen of cutlery, it was now usual for the host to supply these necessities, which presented another opportunity for a display of wealth and taste. At King Frederick the Great's table, covered with a table-cover in heavy cloth and then a linen tablecloth, guests would find a silver or porcelain plate, a large linen serviette which often was arranged to cover a portion of bread on the plate, a silver fork and knife to either side, and a large spoon placed above the plate. Some contemporary accounts describe a two tined fork which was used to hold the meat while a separate, three tined fork was used to convey the meat to the mouth. New serving dishes such as soup-tureens, sauce-boats, and centrepieces were required for increasingly elaborate presentation; silver candlesticks were required to light the banquets. In addition vast quantities of plate were needed simply for ornamentation, usually on great sideboards to the sides of the banqueting room.
Porcelain and glass factories such as Sèvres and Meissen and silversmiths were commissioned to supply dinner and dessert services to the courts of Europe. A large porcelain or silver dinner and dessert service was considered a suitable gift from a king to an ambassador or fellow monarch. King Frederick the Great established his own porcelain factory at Berlin, and appointed Christian Lieberkühn the Younger as court silversmith. Notable examples of Lieberkühn's art in the present sale include silver dinner-plates and several grand dish-covers embellished with grapevines. Having commissioned such elaborate silver and porcelain it was only correct for the owner to ensure that guests knew whose it was. Monograms, cyphers, coats-of-arms, personal symbols, and other heraldic devices were engraved, painted, or etched onto table-ware of all descriptions. Table-services for example were displayed to show the engraved arms so that in most cases the fork an dspoon would be placed with their tines and bowls facing down on the table. Nearly every single item in the present sale has such a monogram or other device, indicating ownership by various members of the Royal Family of Prussia.
Always hierarchical due to the vast expense of foods and presentation, the court table was the arbiter and extreme example of fashion. The excess of time required for dressing and preparation for these meals necessitated later dinner hours, and set the upper-class members of society still further apart from the lower classes, who ate much earlier. According to the eighteenth century poet Thomas Gray, the fashionable 'get up at twelve o'clock, breakfast till three, dine till five, sleep till six, drinking cooling liquors till eight, go to the bridge till ten, sup till two, and so sleep till twelve again.' The meal was much more of a social occasion than purely a time for sustenance, and all facets of it were regulated. It was the opinion of some contemporary writers that the number and pattern of dishes should be matched in each course. Some further stipulated that the pattern of dishes on the table should also be the same for each course, so that when one dish was removed it should be replaced by a different dish of identical shape in precisely the same place for the next course. The grand total of dishes in a five hour meal might run into the hundreds.
Lytton Strachey uses the volatile relationship between the ultimate French arbiter of style, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great to illustrate the conventions of Frederick's Francophile personal and court life. Having assiduously courted Voltaire with flattering letters, and ultimately having lured him to the court at Berlin with the promise of an annual retainer to a value which equated to around £800, Frederick began an adversarial relationship with frequent quarrels and reconciliations. But the social triumph of having French courtiers and advisers far outstripped the indignity of needing to pay them to attend upon him. 'Frederick was merely an extreme instance of a universal fact. Like all Germans of any education, he habitually wrote and spoke in French; like every lady and gentleman from Naples to Edinburgh, his life wasI-Frites Strachey in Books and Characters, French and English, 1915. The life of his Court centred at Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, and it is here that Frederick the Great personally demonstrated his musical proficiency for his guests. Afterwards '…it was supper-time; nd the night ended in the oval dining-room amid laughter and champagnes, .... the epigrams of Maupertuis, the sarcasms of Frederick and the devastating coruscations of Voltaire.' The final act of the Voltaire-Frederick drama concluded at that same Sanssouci dinner-table in a week of suppers - 'soupers de Damocles' Voltaire called them; and then, on March 26, 1753, the two parted for ever.
III Lytton Strachey uses the volatile relationship between the ultimate French arbiter of style, Voltaire, and Frederick the Great to illustrate the conventions of Frederick's Francophile personal and court life. Having assiduously courted Voltaire with flattering letters, and ultimately having lured him to the court at Berlin with the promise of an annual retainer to the equivalent of the vast sum of £800, Frederick began an adversarial relationship with frequent quarrels and reconciliations. But the social triumph of having French courtiers and advisers far outstripped the indignity of needing to pay them to attend upon him. 'Frederick was merely an extreme instance of a universal fact. Like all Germans of any education, he
5-IIinburgh, his life was regulated by the social conventions of 5rance…' -rites Strachey in Books and Characte parted
the form proscribed by Versailles, soups and stews were served first centrepieces, which might contain oil and vinegar. When the 5oup-tureens were removed, another set of dishes was presented and placed at each end of the table, intended to span the time between the first and main course. This course, comprising mainly meat and fish dishes including some eye-catching exotics, savoury pies and baked fare, was known as the relevé, or 'remove'. Although to modern eyes a substantial course, it was not, however, a primary part of the meal. Next came the entrèe or 'entry' to the main section of the 5eal and consisted of a selection of additional savoury meat and fish dishes with a few vegetables and salads, depending upon the season and the wealth of the household.
The pieces de resistance were the most spectacular dishes offered, representing the highest accomplishments of the chefs, the greatest expense in ingredients, and the most impressive structure and presentation, although not necessarily the best tasting food. Spectacular edifices were common in court circles, such as whole roast swans and peacocks presented with their heads, tails and wings. Sometimes included as an adjunct to this course were the entremets, literally meaning 'between the courses' but referring to dishes which were more of a performance or diversion than something to eat. A classic example was the trick of enclosing quantities of live doves or songbirds in pastry which was meant to be cut open at the table, releasing the birds to the rafters to the delight of the company. In medieval times this was known as a soteltie, or 'subtlety', indicating something ingenious. Hors d'oeuvres, literally 'outside the main work', were small accompanying dishes which decorated and enhanced the main dishes; it was not until much later that this phrase came to mean a pre-dinner appetiser.
Finally the table was cleared, desservir 'to clear away', hence the word dessert; and the last items were placed on the table: small confections, jams, creams, fruits and savouries to cleanse and refresh. Increasingly complex confectionery presentations were set as centrepieces throughout the meal, or else brought in with much fanfare as a backdrop to the dessert course. Palaces, carriages and entire garden landscapes were re-created using such diverse materials as sand, mirrors, pastry, sugar-paste, or marzipan. A plan for a table arrangement, circa 1770, preserved in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, demonstrates these attributes on a long banquet table, with individual silver salt-cellars, flatware and an astonishingly complex central decoration incorporating urns, foliage, and pillars. The preoccupation with presentation was evident in all the great European capitals: Horace Walpole commented in 1750 that 'all the geniuses of the age are employed in designing new plans for 5essert.' The best confectioners were thought to be French, and their salaries often soared far above those of the rest of the household staff. By the mid-eighteenth century, decorative sugar-paste figures and architectural edifices were often replaced by examples in 5orcelain, for those who could afford it. The magnificent Meissen service presented by Augustus III of Saxony to the British ambassador Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams in 1745 included 166 such figures. 5essert-services were often in silver-gilt, which added to the opulence of this climax of the meal.
5n 1764, at Frankfurt, a feast was held to celebrate the election of the Archduke Joseph, son of the Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, as King of the Romans. By direction of Maria Teresa the banquet also served to commemorate the end of the hostilities among the electors of 5he Holy Roman Empire occasioned and heightened by opposing factions in 5 contemporary painting by Martin van Mytens, now in Schloss 5chönbrunn, Vienna, shows the table-setting, with silver 5oup-tureens, flatware and plates in their appointed positions on each 5able, ready for the first course. The most important guests are s5ated on a dais, and served from gold or silver-gilt plate, while below, aristocrats and courtiers convene around smaller tables before the start of the feast. Armies of servants are ready in the background, while 5oldiers stand to attention between the tables. Such was the display of opulence that Goethe gave an account of it, and it was favoura5ly compared by contemporary writers to similar occasions at the French court, the highest accolade of the day.
The appearance of massive quantities of food in vast variety all at once on the dining-table would seem to indicate the encouragement of gluttony on an epic scale. In practice, however, Service à la Française meant that each guest simply had his fill of those dishes closest to him and then stopped; there was neither the social precedent nor the desire to sample every item on the table. All this was to change with the introduction of service à la Russe.
Service à la Russe is attributed to the Russian Prince Kourakin who brought the practice to France in the 1830's, whence it spread to England and throughout Europe. In this format a sequential series of dishes were presented to the company one at a time, in a set order. Any particularly impressive item would first be shown to the guests on a large platter, and then returned to the kitchen or taken to the sideboard, out of view, for portioning. The food was then returned to the table, beautifully arranged and decorated, and presented to each guest, who was expected to serve himself from the proffered tray. A highly regimented form dictated the order of presentation, strictly by rank; variations in this occurred when the size of the company was simply too great to wait for strict precedence, and several trays of the same items were presented at the same time, beginning at different points of the table. Even though fewer dishes were offered, the number of servants required made fully as grand a show as the previous form of service. Unlike service à la Française, guests were expected to taste each item offered them. The use of a menu began at about this time in order to inform guests about what was to come in the meal, as they could not see all the dishes but had to wait for each one to appear in its turn.
Throughout the nineteenth century the progression of dishes increased and with it the types of food served and the quantities of serving-dishes required. Once reserved for royalty, silver-gilt was now used by the general company at highest state occasions. The number of pieces of flatware and cutlery required expanded into vast quantities, with a setting for each course laid out 'a la Russe'. In addition glassware was now placed upon the table as well, along with individual carafes and salt-cellars. Such newly fashionable foods as asparagus required their own specialised implements. The custom of afternoon tea grew in popularity and the panoply of equipment supplied was of silver, enamel and ivory; every fashionable household had at least one tea-service and a royal household would have need of a great number. State dining occasions rivalled those of previous years but it was more usual for the highest members of the circle to dine with their guests instead of above them on a dais; extensive banqueting-tables provided opportunities for all to be seated at once. Mirror-plateaux, candelabra, columns, urns, trophies, and covered dishes filled the centres of these tables; they could reach enormous heights, for it was considered impolite to speak across the table.
Even when the occasion demanded a more intimate meal there was no decrease in grandeur, for the most magnificent silver, porcelain and glass were often used even for occasions on a smaller scale. The menu was now a prominent feature and these were often beautifully decorated and almost always in French. Surviving examples from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century demonstrate the number of courses served at a court occasion, together with the wines which accompanied them. But the most rewarding sense of history may be found in perusing the silver, porcelain and glass table-services in the present sale. In their vast quantity and myriad designs, their quality and their unparalleled history, these pieces offer a unique insight into dining in the Royal Prussian court throughout the last two and a half centuries.
The Hohenzollern Family
Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, known as the 'Great Elector;' was born into the Hohenzollern dynasty at the end of the seventeenth century. His son, Frederick promised his support in the War of the Spanish Succession in return for recognition as King. His kingly title had to come outside of the German Empire and so came from Prussia, a province to the east of Brandenburg from which it was separated by Polish territory. Frederick was crowned King Frederick I as King in Prussia at Konigsberg in 1701. Later the name of Prussia was applied to Brandenburg itself and to other dominions of the Hohenzollern kings and the original province of Prussia became known as East Prussia.
Friedrich I was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and modelled himself on Louis XIV, arranging his timetable in accordance with that of Versailles, even taking a mistress to complete the picture though he preferred his second wife, who was a sister of George I of England. He built three palaces: the Berlin Schloss, Charlottenburg, and Sansoucci, the town palace at Potsdam. Because of the financial drain these and his pursuits of music and art caused, he was never able to be fully independent of Sweden and Russian politically and economically.
His son, Friedrich Wilhelm I, was the antithesis of his father, preferring plain living and military tactics to the arts. His frugality earned his royal house the independence from foreign states that had eluded his father. He was also a victim of porphyria. His wife was the sister of George II of England, and his son, Frederick II, to whom he was notoriously cruel, was the celebrated monarch popularly known as Frederick the Great.
Frederick the Great (b. 1712, r. 1740-1786)
In direct contrast to his militaristic father King Friedrich Wilhelm I, from whom, however, he did inherit his martial abilities, Frederick was so enamoured of France that he made French his principal language. He was crowned at the age of 28 in 1740 and immediately set about establishing his court, using that of Louis XIV at Versailles as his model. A slim, pale man with bright blue eyes, who in his youth appeared physically frail, he wrote and performed music, and attracted artists, musicians, philosophers and architects to his court. However, he was also an exceptional military tactician, and a superb horseman who insisted on sharing the same hardships that his men endured at the front. In 1733 he married Elizabeth Catherine (1715-1797), eldest daughter of Ferdinand Albrecht, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and although it was not a love match and they soon separated, he remained cordial and respectful to her. His primary goal was the expansion of his territories, commencing immediately upon his ascension by enlisting his father's army and capturing the province of Silesia from Maria Theresa, who had just inherited it. His actions in the Seven Years' War in resisting the combined might of Russia, France and Austria served to coalesce his power and establish his position as the ruler of a kingdom of the first rank in Europe.
Eine Deutsche Silberschüssel mit Deckel