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Dish

  • Place of origin:

    Limoges (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1560-80 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Court, Jean (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Enamel on copper, painted in grisaille with details in red and flesh tones, and gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting, Esq.

  • Museum number:

    C.2442-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 9

This large serving dish was not used for food but would have been part of its wealthy owner's display of treasures made in various materials, or it might have formed part of a large Limoges enamel service arrayed on shelves. The technical skill and lengthy firing process involved in producing a piece like this meant that this dish was a luxury item that only the rich could afford. Grisaille enamels had become fashionable in 1540s, and Jean Court became one of the most adept in this field. The thickness of the white enamel was varied to allow the dark enamel beneath to show through to a greater or lesser extent. The piece was fired several times, working from the highest temperature colour to gilding at the end. By careful experimentation, the enameller perfected a method of producing the correct colour and shade required and a smooth finish.

'The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche' was a popular subject with Limoges enamel artists, especially for large display pieces. The subject is taken from Lucius Apuleius' 'Metamorphoses' or 'The Golden Ass' (Book 5, ch.24). The design source is a fresco at the Villa Farnesina, Rome, by Giulio Romano and Giovanni Francesco Penni after drawings by Raphael. Engravings by the Master of the Die caused a rapid diffusion of the design which was then used for various decorative arts. The back of the dish is decorated with strapwork around an oval cartouche, flanked by male and female foliate busts and by two grotesque masks, with half-figures and festoons. Mannerist features are characteristic of the work of Jean Court. Strapwork derives from the ornamental work created by Italian and French artists at the royal palace of Fontainebleau. Jean Court or Courtois, who often signed his works with the initials IC, or IDC (for Jean de Court), or even ICDV (Jean Court dit Vigier) was active as an enameller between about 1555 and 1585. The title Vigier indicated that he was a magistrate or judge representing the viscount of Limousin in Limoges. He came to court to serve Charles IX as a highly-regarded and well-remunerated 'peintre du roi'. He is possibly the same man who was painter to Charles Bourbon, Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon in 1553 and to the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, 1562-67. The poet Jacques Blanchon praised him in an ode of 1583.

This dish once belonged to the celebrated collector,William Beckford (1760-1844) who owned a selection of high quality objects of Limoges enamel. His grandson, the 11th Duke of Hamilton, lent twelve enamels to the 1862 exhibition at the South Kensington Museum, of which nine had belonged to Beckford.

Physical description

Enamel on copper, painted in grisaille with 'The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche', a very popular subject with Limoges enamel artists, especially for the larger pieces (numerous examples are found in public and private collections, by Jean Court, Pierre Reymond, Pierre Courteys, Jean Miette and Jean III Penicaud. Leonard Limousin adapted from engraved sources other scenes from the story of Psyche. Four others examples by Jean Court very like this dish are known i.e. V&A inv. no. 80-1885 from the Fountaine Collection; Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore inv. no.44-201 which is signed and bears German arms - see cat. Philippe Verdier no.170 p.309; British Museum inv. no.85.58.16; and one formerly in the Pierpont Morgan Collection and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The subject is taken from Lucius Apuleius' 'Metamorphoses' or 'The Golden Ass' (Book 5, ch.24). The design source is taken from one of a series of frescos from the Psyche Room at the Villa Farnesina, Rome, painted in 1518 by Giulio Romano (1499-1546) and Giovanni Francesco Penni (1496-1528) after the Raphael drawings (Bartsch 15, 69). Two series of engravings by the Master of the Die caused a rapid diffusion of Roman decorative motifs which were used in various decorative arts (e.g. stained glass made in 1542 for the Galerie de Psyche, Chateau d'Ecouen, now in the Galerie d'Aumale, Chateau of Chantilly). The black background of the well of the dish is covered by closely-spaced gold dots. The rim is decorated with grotesque masks, half-figures, fantastic beasts and one male and one female face on strapwork backgrounds.
The reverse is decorated with bold strapwork around an oval cartouche, flanked by male and female foliate busts and by two grotesque masks, with half-figures and festoons. There is a gilt laurel leaf border. Masks, half-figures and strapwork are characteristic of the work of Jean Court. Strapwork is a feature which derives from the ornamental work particularly in stucco which was created by Italian and French artists at the royal palace of Fontainebleau.

Place of Origin

Limoges (made)

Date

ca. 1560-80 (made)

Artist/maker

Court, Jean (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Enamel on copper, painted in grisaille with details in red and flesh tones, and gilt

Marks and inscriptions

'I.C.', painted in gold
On the front, behind Cupid's left heel

Dimensions

Height: 39 cm, Width: 51.1 cm, Depth: 6.5 cm, Weight: 1.96 kg

Object history note

William Beckford collection, inherited by his grandson, the 11th Duke of Hamilton who lent it to the 1862 Special Loan Exhibition at South Kensington Museum (now V&A). Sold by the 12th Duke of Hamilton at Christies, Hamilton Palace Sale, 1882, lot no.970, purchased by W.Wareham. George Salting Collection, bequeathed by him to the V&A.

Historical significance: After many years of confusion between various forms of full name and monogram used by this artist, it is now thought that the Master signing IC, IDC, ICDV, Jean Court, Jean Courtois, Jean de Court, Jean Court dit Vigier were one and the same enameller, active ca. 1555-85. The name Vigier was the French version of the Latin 'vicarius' and indicated he was a magistrate or judge representing the viscount of Limousin in Limoges. He came to court to serve Charles IX as a highly-regarded and well-remunerated 'peintre du roi'. He is possibly the same man who was painter to Charles Bourbon, Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon in 1553 and to the widowed Mary, Queen of Scots, 1562-67. The poet Jacques Blanchon praised him in an ode of 1583. This enameller's work was technically proficient and aesthetically precise and attractive. He excelled in grisaille work in this highly decorative Mannerist style, specialising, as did one or two other enamellers from Limoges, in elaborate services which would not be used but be displayed on buffets or shelves in rooms such as private cabinets (sometimes as an alternative to gold or silver; sometimes themselves mounted in silver-gilt). It is thought that his workshop made copies of his most successful designs while he was away on his frequent visits to the French court.
The celebrated collector,William Beckford (1760-1844) held Limoges painted enamels in great esteem, as is demonstrated by his choice of high quality pieces. Their sophisticated painterly technique and highly-decorative Mannerist vocabulary appealed to him. He owned nine of the twelve Limoges enamels which his grandson, the 11th Duke of Hamilton, lent to the 1862 exhibition at the South Kensington Museum.
Limoges, central France, was famous for the production of champleve enamels from the late 12th century until the town was destroyed by the Black Prince in 1371. The enamel industry began to revive about a century later but the technique of painted enamels produced from 1460s/70s was quite different from the earlier medieval work. The copper, probably from Spanish mines, was hammered to thin sheets. A dish such as this would have been hammered to shape then coated with enamel (a mix of powdered glass known as flux and metallic oxides) front and back. The design was outlined on the dark ground colour, then the image built up with a brush and spatula by adding different enamel colours in sequence according to their melting point. Grisaille was created by varying the thickness of the white enamel to allow the dark enamel beneath to show through to a greater or lesser extent. The piece might be fired several times, working from the highest temperature colour to gilding at the end. There was immense skill, perfected through careful experimentation, in producing the correct colour and shade required and a smooth correct consistency of enamel powder. The result, after much time and labour, had to be as free of bubbles, defects, specks of dirt and cracks as possible.

Historical context note

This large grisaille serving dish is unlikely to have been used for food but would have been part of a display among other treasures in different materials prized by their wealthy owner, or among other Limoges enamels, forming a service arrayed on shelves. The technical skill and lengthy process of firing several times involved in producing a piece like this meant that it was a luxury item that only the rich could afford. Grisaille enamels had become fashionable in 1540s, and Jean Court was one of the main Masters in this field.

Descriptive line

Dish, enamel on copper, painted in grisaille with 'The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche', France, Limoges, Jean Court, ca.1560-80

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Medieval, Renaissance and more recent periods on loan at the South Kensington Museum, June 1862, part 1, ed. by J.C. Robinson.
London: Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition, 1897
Bet McLeod, 'Some further objects from William Beckford's collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum', a shorter notice in the Burlington Magazine, June 2001

Categories

Enamels

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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