Books

The Radiance of the French Renaissance in Miniature

Workshop of the Master of the Large Foreheads, "The Adoration of the Magi" (ca. 1510), enamel on copper, 10 ¼ × 9 1/8 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Workshop of the Master of the Large Foreheads, “The Adoration of the Magi” (ca. 1510), enamel on copper, 10 ¼ × 9 1/8 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)

While the grandest glories of the French Renaissance were the elaborate castles circling Paris and adorning the Loire Valley, down in Central France a much smaller art form flourished. The enamels of Limoges involved a painstaking technique of fusing fine glass powder to a metal-based surface, a process that peaked in the 15th and 16th centuries. The industry later declined, then resurfaced in the 19th century, just in time for American collectors like Henry Clay Frick to take an obsessive interest in the following decades.

Cover of 'Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection'
Cover of ‘Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection’ (click to enlarge)

The Frick Collection recently released its first book on its enamels, Limoges Enamels at The Frick Collectionpublished in association with D Giles Limited. It’s intended for a lay enamel audience, and even if you’ve not so much as looked at a religious scene by the Master of the Large Foreheads, it’s an accessible introduction to enamel history.

Ian Wardropper, director of the Frick Collection, writes in his introduction:

The painted enamels of Limoges constitute one of the distinctive art forms of the French Renaissance, but their production remained largely regional. Much of what characterizes art of the period — such as the magnificent interiors of Fontainebleau, the architecture of Paris, and the royal chateaux — centers on the court in the Île-de-France and its outliers. Far from the circle of the king, enamelers in central France revived a local practice, refining and improving earlier methods

Limoges artisans focused on liturgical vessels and religious items in the Middle Ages, as the city was a point on pilgrimage routes to Italy and Spain. By the 16th century, like many Renaissance artists, they were dabbling as much in classical mythology as Christianity, and sometimes commissioned portraits. A late 16th-century oval dish by Jean Reymond has the Last Supper on one side, and Jupiter astride an eagle on the other. The imagery was often inspired or copied from other art forms, like small Book of Hours or Florentine paintings transmitted to France via printmaking.

Pages from 'Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection’ (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)

The enamel artists were almost entirely men, but there is an interesting exception with Suzanne de Court, possibly the daughter of enamel maker Jean de Court. The book doesn’t touch on much of her back story, although it presents a beautiful pair of saltcellars from the late 16th or early 17th century with scenes from the life of Orpheus, which were created in her preferred deep colors of blue, emerald green, and turquoise embedded with gilded patterns.

The jewel-like luminescence of enamels didn’t attract Henry Clay Frick until he’d delved into decorative arts to accompany his Old Masters paintings. The enamels at the Frick, are housed in the recently reinstalled Enamels Room, and they were initially brought together by John Pierpont Morgan. Frick purchased the lot after Morgan’s death in 1913, and he was apparently so enthused by them that he gave up the personal office in his Fifth Avenue mansion for their display, and that’s where they remain today, a small, but important, collection revealing this delicate art tradition.

Pages from 'Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from ‘Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection’ (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Suzanne de Court, "Pair of Saltcellars: Scenes from the Story of Orpheus" (late 16th or early 17th century), enamel on copper. Height: 3 1/2inches; Diameter: 3 9/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Suzanne de Court, “Pair of Saltcellars: Scenes from the Story of Orpheus” (late 16th or early 17th century), enamel on copper. Height: 3 1/2inches; Diameter: 3 9/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Jean Pénicaud I, "Triptych: Christ Crowned with Thorns with The Kiss of Judas and The Flagellation" (ca. 1525−35), enamel on copper. Central plaque: 10 5/8 × 9 3/8 inches; wings: 10 5/8 × 4 3/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Jean Pénicaud I, “Triptych: Christ Crowned with Thorns with The Kiss of Judas and The Flagellation” (ca. 1525−35), enamel on copper. Central plaque: 10 5/8 × 9 3/8 inches; wings: 10 5/8 × 4 3/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Léonard Limousin (or Limosin), "Portrait of a Man" (1542), enamel on copper, 5 x 4 ¼ inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Léonard Limousin (or Limosin), “Portrait of a Man” (1542), enamel on copper, 5 x 4 ¼ inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Léonard Limousin (or Limosin), "Portrait of a Bearded Man (Guillaume Farel?)" (1546), enamel on copper, 7 9/16 x 5 5/8 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Léonard Limousin (or Limosin), “Portrait of a Bearded Man (Guillaume Farel?)” (1546), enamel on copper, 7 9/16 x 5 5/8 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Workshop of Pierre or Jean Reymond Ewer: The Gathering of Manna; The Destruction of Pharoah's Host, late 16th century Enamel on copper 13 × 6 × 4 inches The Frick Collection, New York Photo: Michael Bodycomb
Workshop of Pierre or Jean Reymond, “Ewer: The Gathering of Manna; The Destruction of Pharoah’s Host” (late 16th century), enamel on copper, 13 × 6 × 4 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb
Pierre Courteys, "Casket: Old Testament Subjects" (mid-16th century), enamel on copper, 8 5/16 × 9 13/16 × 6 1/4 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Pierre Courteys, “Casket: Old Testament Subjects” (mid-16th century), enamel on copper, 8 5/16 × 9 13/16 × 6 1/4 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Attributed to Jean Pénicaud I or the Master of the Louis XII, "Triptych: The Crucifixion with The Way to Calvary and the Pieta" (ca. 1525−35), enamel on copper. Central plaque: 10 3/16 × 8 3/4 inches; wings: 10 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Attributed to Jean Pénicaud I or the Master of the Louis XII, “Triptych: The Crucifixion with The Way to Calvary and the Pieta” (ca. 1525−35), enamel on copper. Central plaque: 10 3/16 × 8 3/4 inches; wings: 10 1/4 x 3 3/4 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Workshop of Pierre Reymond, "Christ Crowned with Thorns" (mid- to late 16th century), enamel on copper. Plaque: 8 x 6 1/4 inches. Roundels: diameter of 2 1/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Workshop of Pierre Reymond, “Christ Crowned with Thorns” (mid- to late 16th century), enamel on copper. Plaque: 8 x 6 1/4 inches. Roundels: diameter of 2 1/16 inches. (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)
Léonard Limousin, "Plaque: Triumph of the Eucharist and of the Catholic Faith" (1561), enamel on copper, 7 9/16 inches x 9 7/8 inches
Léonard Limousin, “Plaque: Triumph of the Eucharist and of the Catholic Faith” (1561), enamel on copper, 7 9/16 inches x 9 7/8 inches (courtesy The Frick Collection, photo by Michael Bodycomb)

Limoges Enamels at The Frick Collection is out now from the Frick Collection in association with D Giles Limited.

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