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  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    ca.1500-1550 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Enamelled copper, cold-painted in gold

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Salting, Esq.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 8

This style of ornamental enamel-work was fashionable in Venice in the late 15th and 16th centuries. The intense colours are produced using a base layer of milky white enamel with blue, green or red enamels applied over the top. The dense gold decoration may have been inspired by Spanish lustre ceramics or Middle Eastern inlaid metalwork. It was 'cold-painted' onto the enamel after firing, and so it wears off easily.

This plate was probably intended for use in a religious context. It is decorated with the sacred monogram, IHS, derived from the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek. This monogram is often associated with private devotion, and particularly with the cult of the Holy name of Jesus popularised by St Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444).

Physical description

Enamelled copper dish, with floral and foliate decoration painted in gold throughout. A central boss bears the sacred monogram 'IHS', surrounded by a design of white enamel feathers on a blue ground. Around this is a green band, and then white gadroons on a blue ground, and a blue rim finished with a metal band. The reverse is green, with radiating patterns on the central metal boss.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)


ca.1500-1550 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Enamelled copper, cold-painted in gold

Marks and inscriptions

'IHS' is the sacred monogram, or Christogram, derived from the first three letters of Jesus' name in Greek: iota, eta, sigma. The cross above the 'H' is a traditional addition to the monogram.


Depth: 3 cm, Diameter: 31 cm, Weight: 1.04 kg

Object history note

George Salting bequest

Historical context note

This type of ornamental enamel-work was fashionable in Venice during the late 15th and 16th centuries, and was applied to vessels intended for both secular and liturgical use. The sacred monogram, 'IHS', on this dish suggests that it was made for use in a religious context. Because of its materials, it is unlikely to have been used in Holy Communion - large churches would use vessels made from silver or gold, and although smaller, poorer churches might use other materials they would not have been able to afford work of this quality.

The technique of painting in enamels on copper was developed in the second half of the 15th century, and Venice quickly developed its own characteristic style. Vessels were made from thin copper, usually with a lobed or gadrooned form, and coated with a layer of milky white enamel. The intense, almost translucent colours applied over this base layer included dark blue, emerald green and deep red, with some areas left white for contrast. Finally, the surface was decorated with dense patterns of tiny gold stars, commas, flowers, and leafy scrolls.

Venetian enamel-workers may have been influenced by lustre ceramics from Valencia, which were imported to Italy in large quantities between the 14th and 16th centuries. These Spanish wares made use of dense geometric and foliate patterns, shimmering in lustre on a white ground. They also imitated metalwork forms, such as gadrooning, and so their decorative motifs could be adapted relatively directly for use on metal dishes such as this. Similar ribbed and gadrooned forms were also employed in Murano cups of the period, made from enamelled white glass, which could also have been an influence on Venetian enamel-workers; the fluting of the glass was derived from Byzantine models, and ultimately from Near Eastern mould-blown glass.

The use of continuous patterns of gold scrollwork to cover all surfaces of the objects may also have been influenced by Middle Eastern design. Venice had close connections with the Islamic world in the Renaissance, and inlaid metalwork covered in foliate arabesque patterns was imported to the city from the Middle East.

Descriptive line

Enamelled copper dish, with floral and foliate decoration painted in gold, 16th century, Venice


Copper; Enamel; Metal


Enamelling; Painting

Subjects depicted

Stars; Scrolling foliage; Flowers; Palmettes; Feathers


Christianity; Enamels


Ceramics Collection

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