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The Azure and Gold of Limoges. Twelfth - to Fourteenth - Century Enamels
23 June 2009 - 23 May 2010

The exhibition in the Blue Bedroom of the Winter Palace is dedicated to Limoges champleve enamels. The main part of the exhibits (there were more than 70 of them at the exhibition) dates back to the end of XII - beginning of XIII century, ‘golden age’ of Limoges workshops. Some of them are already familiar to the audience by permanent exhibitions in the Romanov Gallery and the Jewellery Gallery others are kept in the funds of the Hermitage. The exhibition gives an opportunity to display them together tracing all the stages of development of Limoges production.

Limoges is one of those small provincial towns that gained world fame due to articles of local production. As Delft became famous for its white-blue faience, Belgian Dinant became common name for all articles from cast bronze (dinanderie), so did Limoges become famous for its enamels on copper. Manufactured articles of Limoges craftsmen spread from Iceland to Palestine.

In XII - XIV centuries the whole world of Christianity knew ‘Opus Lemovicense’ (‘Limoges work’) that is how Limoges enamels were called back then. But Limoges was famous not only for its enamels. In the XI-XII centuries Limoges was the biggest centre of religious life of France. One of the four pilgrimage roads to sepulchre of St Jacob in Santiago de Compostela was going through it and was even called Limoges. And relics of St Martial, baptizer of Aquitaine that was held sacred here as the thirteenth apostle, were in St Martial Abbey. In the city and its outskirts there was thousand of churches and each of them kept its precious shrines. It is believed that the demand for church utensils that had appeared here played crucial part for the development of enamel production. From the second half of XII century and until the beginning of XIV century Limoges workshops became its main manufacturers in Europe.

Articles were made from ordinary materials. Copper plate served as the basis. Hollows were made in the plate and that gave the name for the technique. Hollows were filled with vitreous mass with addition of metallic oxide. During burning that mass alloyed firmly with the basis. Upon that enamels were performed at the level of jewellery works. Such exchange seemed of rather equal value since in the Middle Ages gold and silver were mainly valued for their capacity to interact with light. Copper in Limoges enamels was completely covered with vermeil and colourful enamels that enriched surface by effects of colours to some extent had the advantage over articles from precious materials. Cabochons from glass paste or clear glass with bottom layer made from foil were like precious stones. High aesthetic features and low cost made Limoges manufactured articles affordable and attractive for any church.

Church utensils make up the main part of exhibits of the exhibition. These are liturgical vessels: pyxes or ciboriums where sacred wafers (wafers for communion) were kept, book binders, procession crosses, candleholders, bishop’s croziers. One of the most interesting types of Limoges production was caskets-reliquaries for relics of saints.

Earlier monuments (the second half of XII century) differed by their engraving on golden background. From the end of XII century production was increasing gradually till it became of mass scale. The first step was transition from golden to blue backgrounds by switching places of those two colour categories. At first backgrounds were covered with thin engraved ornament and gilded. From the end of XII century figures were kept in reserve while background, on the contrary, was completely enamelled and decorated with various ornaments - rosettes, discs, stars, pseudo-Cuphic inscriptions, sprouts. Ever since that time Limoges manufactured articles took ‘classic’ form that is very well-known to modern audience. That technological innovation allowed simplifying and speeding the work considerably. Still even in the middle of XIII century there appeared items that were rare in their quality, such as a figure of Madonna and Child. They belong to the new Gothic epoch. Besides the monuments of XII - XIV centuries several articles of XIX century - stylization and imitations reflecting revival of interest to that technique in the time of historism, are presented at the exhibition.

If before it was mostly church utensils that were manufactured in Limoges now craftsmen also go by tastes of a new customer - nobility. New types of articles appear: gemellions - pair bowls for lavabo, folding field candleholders, as well as other topics - courtly scenes and heraldry.

Exhibition curator is Ekaterina Nekrasova, junior research assistant of the Department of Western-European Applied Art of the Hermitage. The exhibition is accompanied by academic illustrated catalogue (The State Hermitage Publishing House, 2009), the author of the catalogue is Ekaterina Nekrasova.

   


Chasse with St Valeria and the Scene of the Adoration of the Magi. Detail
1170-1180
Larger view


Chasse with St Valeria and the Scene of the Adoration of the Magi. Detail
1170-1180
Larger view


Chasse with St Valeria and the Scene of the Adoration of the Magi. Detail
1170-1180
Larger view


Book-cover with the Crucifixion
Late 12th century
Larger view


Chasse with Christ in Glory, the Lamb, the Angels and the Saints. Detail
First decade of the 13th century
Larger view


Chasse with the scenes of the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt. Detail
First decade of the 13th century
Larger view


Chasse with the scenes of the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt. Detail
First decade of the 13th century
Larger view


Chasse with Angels Gilded
First quarter of the 13th century
Larger view


Plaque with Virgin and Child
First quarter of the 13th century
Larger view


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