French Limoges painted enamel plate, unattributed, but in the style of Pierre Reymond’s workshop, c.1565-75
The charming scene on this delightful plate depicts a music making party dressed in Classical style (all’antica), seated on a grassy knoll in a formal French Renaissance garden.
It would originally have been part of a set of twelve, each depicting an activity associated with a different month of the year. The month represented here is May, as the inscription below the basket informs us. The naked boys on a gold ground in the sky represent Gemini, the twins, sign of the zodiac for May. The scene is after a print from an undated series of the months by the French goldsmith, designer and printmaker Etienne Delaune (c. 1518-1583), published c. 1559-65.
The Labours of the Months was already a popular theme in the medieval period, when the Labours were depicted in a specifically Christian context, as illustrations in Books of Hours. These usually opened with a series of monthly calendars citing important liturgical feast days. They were often illustrated with two traditional vignettes. One depicted the appropriate, usually agrarian, labour for the month or the indoor comforts of winter months and the outdoor pleasures of summer months. The other vignette contained the appropriate sign of the zodiac. The popularity of this theme in France from the mid-16th century is reflected in contemporary poetry. In the 1550s-60s, the group of poets known as the Pléiade, whose most illustrious member was Pierre Ronsard (1524-1585), wrote about the cycle of seasonal activities in the countryside Throughout the 16th century, Limoges, in central France, was unrivalled for its painted enamels on copper. The enamellers began to produce calendar plates in the 1540s. At this time, they were diversifying their output, increasingly producing tablewares for secular use, in addition to the devotional plaques that had previously dominated their production. Calendar plates were especially popular during the third quarter of the sixteenth century. Few complete sets survive. There is no conclusive evidence that they were integrated into larger table services. While it is not certain that they were used for dining, they would have made an entertaining, cohesive display on a buffet. Two plates in this case that may have belonged to the same set and remained together illustrate the biblical story of Joseph (Genesis, 37-50.26), another popular subject for Limoges enamel plate series (numbers 10 and 12).
Several workshops produced calendar plates. Pierre Reymond’s workshop was the major supplier. Several enamels in this case were made by this successful and very productive workshop, while others are attributed to it (see numbers 16-20). The workshop’s products are often inscribed with the monogram ‘PR’, for Pierre Reymond (c. 1513-after 1584). Dated examples range from 1548 to 1571.The Wallace Collection plate is not inscribed with the monogram, but the distinctive decoration on the back (illustrated here), with its central head in profile, bands of ornament, strapwork and winged cherub heads, is typical of the workshop. The plate may have been made by the workshop; it was certainly made under its influence. The plate was extensively restored in the 19th century.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2009. Text by Suzanne Higgott
Suzanne Higgott will discuss this plate at 1pm on Tuesdays 5 and 19 May.