Limoges enamel

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Limoges ciborium with champlevé enamel, and center rim in pseudo-Kufic script, circa 1200.[1]

Limoges enamel was produced at Limoges, France, already the most famous, but not the most high quality, European center of vitreous enamel production by the 12th century; its works were known as Opus de Limogia or Labor Limogiae.[2] Limoges became famous for champlevé enamels, producing on a large scale, and then from the 15th century retained its lead by switching to painted enamel, often in grisaille, on flat metal plaques or vessels of many forms.

Champlevé plaques and "chasse caskets" or reliquaries were eventually almost mass-produced and affordable by parish churches and the gentry. However the highest quality champlevé work came from the Mosan Valley, and later the basse-taille enamellers of Paris led the top end of the market.[3] The industry was already in decline by 1370, when the brutal sack of the city after the Siege of Limoges by the English, led by Edward the Black Prince, effectively ended it. From the late 15th century Limoges enamel revived, now in "painted enamel" on thin flat copper surfaces, and in the French Renaissance was the leading centre, with several dynastic workshops, who often signed or punchmarked their work.

Limoges enamel was usually applied on a copper base, but also sometimes on silver or gold.[2] Preservation is often excellent due to the toughness of the material employed,[2] and the cheaper Limoges works on copper have survived at a far greater rate than courtly work on precious metals.

Some of the early Limoges enamel pieces display a band in pseudo-Kufic script, which "was a recurrent ornamental feature in Limoges and had long been adopted in Aquitaine".[1]

Limoges Cross
Limoges Reliquary Casket

Pieces of Limoges Enamel[edit]

Limoges Cross[edit]

This piece (middle right) is simply known as "Central Plaque from a Cross" and is by an unknown artist. It is thought to be from the first third of the 13th century from Limoges, France. It currently resides in the San Francisco Legion of Honour in the Medieval Art Galleries. The piece is made of copper, but the Champlevé is the technique used to make the carved out parts that will later be filled with the enamel. The uncarved area is usually gilded to help frame the enameled portions.

The town of Limoges was home to the Abbey of St. Martial and its massive library, which made it a booming artistic center. It was home to composers of medieval music who attended the St. Martial School. By the 12th Century, Limoges was famous for its enamel works, though they were not the highest quality.

This cross was probably used in the Abbey of St. Martial probably as a processional cross, because the abbey had such an artistic influence on the town. It is possible that either a monk made it for the abbey, or the abbey commissioned one of the artists to make it for them. This cross also has some jewels outlining it. The shapes in the background are mostly circular.

Limoges Reliquary Casket[edit]

This reliquary casket depicts scenes from the death of Thomas Becket. St. Thomas Becket was murdered while in Canterbury Cathedral, supposedly on the wishes of King Henry II of England. Scenes from the death of Thomas Becket were popular sources of inspiration for the artists of Limoges, with over 45 such caskets surviving today.[4] It currently resides in the San Francisco Legion of Honor in the Medieval Art Galleries.


Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Louvre museum notice
  2. ^ a b c Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages by Julia De Wolf Gi Addison p.97ff
  3. ^ Osborne, Harold (ed), The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts, pp. 332–4, 1975, OUP, ISBN 0-19-866113-4
  4. ^ Binski, Paul in: Jonathan Alexander & Paul Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400, Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London 1987