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Plaque

  • Place of origin:

    Limoges (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1500-1525 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Polychrome enamel with 'paillons' (translucent drops of enamel over foil), and gilding, in gilt brass frame

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting, Esq.

  • Museum number:

    C.2379-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 10

This small plaque with curved top has been mounted in a nineteenth century gilt brass frame as a pax. This may have been the original use but this is uncertain. A pax (from the Latin word for peace) was passed around and kissed by the congregation during the Mass. It symbolised the kiss of peace shared by early Christians. Paxes were made from a variety of materials and often had handles affixed to the back so that they could be held securely. The polychrome enamel shows an Annunciation scene in an architectural setting such as a chapel or oratory. The Archangel Gabriel on the right kneels before and points to the Virgin Mary, as he explains that she will conceive a child who will be the son of God. Mary kneels at a prie-dieu on which is placed an open devotional book, near a vase of lilies which symbolise her purity.
The earliest painted enamels of the sixteenth century, such as this one, bear much similarity to images in contemporary illuminated manuscripts. The subject matter is similar and they employ the same stylistic techniques as illuminations, such as the use of gold highlights, especially for the clothes and drops of enamel to suggest jewels. It is thought that some artists were able to work in both art forms. Although this piece is anonymous, it is quite similar to the productions of the workshop of the Master of the Baltimore and Orleans Triptychs who may have been the illuminator of the Book of Hours for the Use of Limoges (in the Art Institute, Chicago).
The enamel was was part of the large bequest of 1910 which George Salting left to the V&A. Born in Australia in 1836 where his father was a wealthy sugar producer, he was a prolific but very careful collector, driving a hard bargain over prices. He lent objects to the South Kensington Museum, as the V&A was then called, from 1874, when his collection had outgrown his residence in St James’ Street. Salting died in 1909 and the majority of his collection came to the Museum in 1910 to be displayed in its own galleries in the Museum.

Physical description

Small plaque with curved top mounted in a nineteenth century gilt brass frame as a pax. The polychrome enamel shows an Annunciation scene in an architectural setting such as a chapel or oratory. The Archangel Gabriel on the right kneels before and points to the Virgin Mary in blue mantle and purple robe, who, with arms crossed over her chest, kneels at a prie-dieu on which is placed an open devotional book. There is a vase of flowers (on a tiled floor) between them in the foreground and a landscape and blue sky seen through the window openings in the background. Mary's halo, the nexk of her gown, and the angel's dalmatic are bejewelled with 'paillons' (foil backed drops of translucent enamel). Details are picked out in gold. The counter enamel is not visible.

Place of Origin

Limoges (made)

Date

ca. 1500-1525 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Polychrome enamel with 'paillons' (translucent drops of enamel over foil), and gilding, in gilt brass frame

Dimensions

Height: 17.6 cm, Width: 13.9 cm maximum, Depth: 5.8 cm, Weight: 0.72 kg

Object history note

Formerly in the Salting Collection, bequeathed to the V&A in 1910. The large and extremely generous bequest of George Salting included both eastern and western ceramics as well as works of art in other materials. He was born in Australia in 1836 where his father was a wealthy sugar producer. A prolific but very careful collector, he drove a hard bargain over prices. He lent objects to the South Kensington Museum, as the V&A was then called, from 1874, when his collection had outgrown his residence in St James’ Street. Salting died in 1909 and the majority of his collection came to the Museum in 1910 to be displayed in its own galleries in the Museum.

Historical significance: The earliest painted enamels of the sixteenth century, such as this one, bear much similarity to images in contemporary illuminated manuscripts. The subject matter is similar and they employ the same stylistic techniques as illuminations, such as the use of gold highlights, especially for the clothes and drops of enamel to suggest jewels. It is thought that some artists were able to work in both art forms. Although this piece is anonymous, it is quite similar to the productions of the workshop of the Master of the Baltimore and Orleans Triptychs, and it appears to be a late variation of the Baltimore Triptych (in the Walters Art Gallery), after the print source on which both the Baltimore and Orleans Triptychs were based. The Master of the Baltimore and Orleans Triptychs may have been the illuminator of the Book of Hours for the Use of Limoges (in the Art Institute, Chicago).
This plaque is fairly close to an Annunciation plaque in the Taft Museum, Cincinnati which also depicts the Virgin with hands crossed over her chest - but the Taft panel lacks the window openings in the background and is influenced by the Master of the Louis XII Triptych rather than the Master of the Baltimore and Orleans Triptychs.

Historical context note

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 first of all hammered to thin sheets which were then worked on by the skillful enamellers. It was a long and careful process, with several firings to achieve the finished result.
This plaque is framed as a pax though it is not certain that this was definitely the original use. A Pax (from the Latin word for peace) was passed around and kissed by the congregation during the Mass. It symbolised the kiss of peace shared by early Christians. Paxes were made from a variety of materials and often had handles affixed to the back so that they could be held securely. This may have been the original use of this object, although such plaques were also made as small devotional objects for private owners, or might have been framed along with other rectangular and curved top plaques in a large series of enamels each featuring a significant event in the life of Christ to be used as an altarpiece. Many early painted Limoges enamels with New Testament scenes were exported to Spain.

Descriptive line

Polychrome enamel plaque with translucent enamel drops over foil backing, and with gilding, mounted in a nineteenth century frame as a pax, depicting the Annunciation in an architectural setting, Limoges, France, ca.1500-25

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

Marquet de Vasselot, Les Emaux Limousins, 1921
Marvin C. Ross, The Master of the Orleans Triptych, Enameller and Painter, Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, IV, 1941
Philippe Verdier, Raiders of Images: Limoges Painted Enamels, Apollo n.s., vol.CXXVIII, no.322, December 1988
Philippe Verdier, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Catalogue of the Painted Enamels of the Renaissance, 1967
Taft Museum, Cincinnati catalogue, 1939 and 1958

Categories

Enamels

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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