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Limoges Enamel Plate, Psyche on her way to the Underworld French Limoges, attributed to Pierre Reymond’s workshop, c. 1577
Treasure of the Month - January 2006

Limoges Enamel Plate, Psyche on her way to the Underworld French Limoges, attributed to Pierre Reymond’s workshop, c. 1577

Sixteenth-century Limoges was renowned for its painted enamels, applied to a copper base and fused during a series of firings.

In the latter part of the century, Pierre Reymond’s prestigious workshop produced an abundance of tablewares in grisaille enamel, with their distinctive black, white and grey palette.

This scene illustrates an episode from the story of Cupid and Psyche (IIIF281). Popular in the Renaissance, the story was best known as recounted by the ancient Roman writer Lucius Apuleius in The Golden Ass. Psyche, the beautiful mortal lover of Cupid, god of love, broke her promise never to look at him. Consequently, Cupid deserted her. In order to be reunited with him, Psyche undertook a series of seemingly insurmountable tasks imposed by Cupid’s jealous mother, Venus, goddess of beauty. Here, Psyche embarks on her final task, being ferried by Charon across the river Styx to the Underworld, home of the dead in classical mythology, where she must obtain some beauty. With Cupid’s help, Psyche completes this task and they subsequently marry. During the Renaissance, the classical myth was interpreted as a Christian allegory. Psyche’s quest represented the soul’s search for God. In the visual arts at this time, the most widely distributed interpretation of the story was a series of 32 prints by the Master of the Die and Agostino Veneziano after designs by Michael Coxie that originated, at least in part, in designs by Raphael for frescoes in the Villa Farnesina, Rome. The series was published c. 1536. A derivative series follows the same sequence and was published to illustrate a French edition of Apuleius’s story in 1546. The plate shows scene 25 from this; the number is inscribed at the bottom right. The border is inspired by classical ornament.

For patrons of the visual arts, the story’s appeal lay partly in its episodic nature, exemplified by Psyche’s series of tasks. This made it eminently suitable for transformation into sequential decorative schemes - fresco or tapestry cycles or a series of stained glass windows. In France, the story was especially popular for the decoration of sets of enamel plates. Pierre Reymond’s workshop produced several, distinguished by their borders or a coat of arms. Each set may originally have comprised 32 plates, following the prints. This plate can be attributed by comparison with examples bearing the workshop monogram PR and a date.

Related Works in the Wallace Collection

  • For more enamels associated with Pierre Reymond’s workshop, see 16, 17, 18 and 20 here. For a maiolica dish depicting The Presentation of Psyche to the Gods, see this wall, further to your right.

Further Reading
  • Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass, Penguin Classics, 1998
  • Véronique Notin et al, La Rencontre des Héros, Limoges, 2002

Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2006
Text by Suzanne Higgott