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Jean de Court, Marguerite de France as Minerva painted enamel, Limoges, 1555 (IIIF253)
The inscription on the back of the
The inscription on the back of the
Treasure of the Month - March 2003

Jean de Court, Marguerite de France as Minerva painted enamel, Limoges, 1555 (IIIF253)

In this remarkable portrait, Marguerite de France (1523-1574), daughter of Fran├žois 1 (d. 1547) and sister of Henri II (d. 1559), is depicted as Pallas/Minerva, classical goddess of war and wisdom.

This alludes to her role as protectress of contemporary French culture against ‘le vilain monster Ignorance’, the mantle bestowed upon her after she defended Pierre Ronsard’s poetry against attack in 1549. Poets referred to Henri II’s court as the ‘Nouvel Olympe’ and to Marguerite as ‘la nouvelle Pallas’.

Limoges was the principal centre producing painted enamels in the 16th century. The bust of Henri d’Albret (no.24) is typical of mid-century portraits. D’Albret was married to Marguerite’s aunt, the authoress Marguerite d’Angoulême. Marguerite’s head is after a drawing attributed to François Clouet, now at Chantilly, which may have been the official image of the princess. Portraits in enamel were often modelled on drawings attributed to Clouet’s workshop and may have been incorporated into panelling. Marguerite’s costume and attributes as Pallas/Minerva are derived from a print by René Boyvin after Luca Penni. The armillary globe alludes to Marguerite’s fame and to her motto, ‘Wisdom, guardian of the world’. As goddess of war, she wears a breastplate, holds a spear and her shield decorated with the head of the Gorgon Medusa, and has a plumed helmet at her feet. As goddess of wisdom, Marguerite’s foot rests on some books surmounted by an owl. Dramatised portraits were an established form of selfpropaganda, but examples in enamel are rare.

The portrait is painted in opaque and translucent enamel colours on a copper base. Silver foil below translucent blue enriches Marguerite’s costume. The image was built up in successive kiln firings at diminishing temperatures. For the first firing, both sides of the metal were coated with enamel. Enamelling the back equalises the stress between the metal and the enamel on cooling, minimising distortion. Firing fuses the enamels to the base and produces their vivid colours and glossy surface. The gold, fusing at the lowest temperature, is applied last. This is the only fully signed and dated enamel by Jean de Court, about whom little is known. Art historians have long speculated as to whether he might have had some involvement with a workshop or workshops inscribing enamels ‘I C’ and ‘I D C’ (nos. 12, 13, 14 and 15).