Painted enamel plates with scenes from the story of Joseph, France, Limoges, IC workshop, c. 1600
These two plates illustrate episodes from the story of Joseph in the Old Testament book of Genesis (37-50).
The story is packed with dramatic events and emotional turmoil: the sale of Joseph into slavery at the hands of his brothers; his imprisonment in Egypt; his triumphant rise to power there, realising his plan to store grain for the years of famine that he has predicted; his forgiveness of his brothers and his reunion with his father Jacob, who had thought him dead. A gamut of human vices and virtues is depicted - favouritism, envy, lust, dishonesty, integrity, forgiveness and love.
The episodic story lends itself to the production of narrative series. In later 16th to early 17th-century France the story was quite popular for the decoration of the painted enamels for which Limoges was renowned. The workshop using the mark ‘IC’ (probably for Jean de Court) produced several sets of 12 plates on this theme. The Wallace Collection’s plates, first recorded together in 1867, are probably from one such set. That depicting Joseph Storing Grain has the mark ‘IC’ on the back; Joseph Taken to Prison is unmarked, but it can be attributed to the same workshop.
Each plate is inscribed in gold with its biblical reference: a ‘G’ for Genesis followed by the chapter in Roman numerals. In Joseph Taken to Prison, gaolers steer the reluctant Joseph towards prison while in the crowd Potiphar’s wife, whose advances he spurned, and through whose false accusation he is being imprisoned, holds the blue cloak that he dropped when fleeing from her. In Joseph Storing Grain, Joseph, spade in hand, interrupts his supervision of the grain storage to speak with Pharaoh. Careful inspection of the plates reveals worn details in gold and repairs near the centres of the two scenes.
The scenes are modelled on prints. The main source, used for nine scenes, including those on both plates here, was Claude Paradin’s Quadrins Historique de la Bible, published in Lyon in 1553, with woodcuts by Bernard Salomon (c. 1507/8-c. 1561). The front borders of the plates are enamelled with grotesque ornament, the backs with strap work. Most of the plates are multi-coloured (‘polychrome’), as here, with a vibrant palette achieved through the use of ‘paillons’, pieces of foil covered by translucent enamel, giving a jewel-like effect. There were probably four or five such sets. Two plates in grey indicate the existence of another set in this more sombre palette. The Joseph plates were probably made after 1585, judging by the close resemblance of their borders and backs to 12 ‘IC’ workshop plates decorated with scenes from the Life of the Virgin after prints executed by the Dutch engraver Johannes Wierix (1549-c. 1620) before 1585.
Monday 10 and Tuesday 25 June at 1pm with Suzanne Higgott.
Suzanne Higgott, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Glass and Limoges Painted Enamels, London, 2011.