The Wallace Collection

A Limoges enamel plaque
Treasure of the Month - July 2010

A Limoges enamel plaque

Louis XIII, King of France and Navarre French, Limoges, attributed to Jean Limosin, c.1627-c.1630

This beautifully painted small Limoges enamel plaque depicts the French King Louis XIII (1601–43), as a fashionably dressed young man in his prime. He wears a white fallen ruff, a purple paned doublet with gold embroidery and buttons over a white under garment, and the blue sash of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, the senior order of chivalry in France. Louis’ thick, dark hair is cut in a fashionably asymmetrical style. Circumstances had obliged Louis XIII to take on the responsibilities of adulthood at a remarkably young age. His father, Henri IV, was assassinated in 1610, so Louis, the second Bourbon king of France, inherited the throne at the age of eight. His mother, Marie de Medici, acted as Regent until his majority in 1614. His reign was dominated by the Thirty Years’ War, rivalry with the Habsburg Empire, the political intrigues of his mother and brothers and the renewal of the Wars of Religion, in which key events were the defeat of the Huguenots at the siege of La Rochelle in 1628 and their disempowerment with the Peace of Alais in 1629.

Limoges, in central France, was the major centre for the production of painted enamels from the late-15th to 17th centuries. For this technique, enamel colours are applied to a copper base and fused during a series of kiln firings. Flesh tints and gilding enrich the surface and enlevage (scraping away an upper layer of enamel to reveal a contrasting colour beneath) often provides fine detail.

Although many portrait plaques depicting members of the French court and the wider community had been produced in the second half of the 16th century, demand for contemporary portraits in Limoges enamel had declined significantly by the early-17th century and there are relatively few French court portraits from this period. This is a rare example of an enamel portrait of Louis XIII in adulthood.

The delightful, jewel-like border ornament, comprising translucent enamel flower heads on silver foil set amidst delicate stylized gilt foliage, is characteristic of Limoges enamel decoration during Louis XIII’s reign.

This composition, with Louis’ portrait encircled by an inscribed white border and set within a rectangular frame, follows a popular format for contemporary portrait prints. The source is an undated engraving by Michel Lasne. The inscription below the image in the print is repeated on the enamel, where the enameller, almost certainly Jean Limosin (d.1646), has added his own initials, ‘I L’, separated by a fleur-de-lis. The use of the fleur-de-lis denoted that an artisan was in the king’s employment. The first member of the Limosin family to use it was Jean Limosin’s grandfather, Léonard Limosin, whose small portrait of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre, is also displayed in this case. Jean Limosin was the official enameller to the king during the 1620s. He requested that the fleur-de-lis be incorporated into his coat of arms for his burial.

Gallery Talks

Suzanne Higgott will discuss the plaque on Tuesday 6 and Monday 12 July at 1pm.

Further Reading

Erika Speel, ‘Dictionary of Enamelling’, London, Ashgate, 1998.

Limoges Enamels in other London Collections

The British Museum; Ranger’s House, Blackheath; Victoria and Albert Museum.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2010.Text by Suzanne Higgott.

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