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All That Glistens

Jean II Limosin
Limoges ca. 1561 – 1646
Sacra Conversazione, Virgin and Child with Benedictine Monks
polychrome enamel, translucent enamel on foil and gold highlights on copper
6 ¾ x 5 ⅛ inches
17.2 x 13 cm

The genre of the Sacra Conversazione, which features the Virgin in majesty with the Christ child surrounded by saints, appeared in Italy during the 15th century and flourished in the 16th century. The selection of saints in the present work, all of them Benedictine monks and mostly originating from Northern France and Germany, suggests a commission from a northern Benedictine monastery. Each of the saints depicted here either defended the Catholic faith against heresies or promoted Marian devotion. This little painting can therefore be considered a statement against Protestantism in the aftermath of the Council of Trent, which ended in 1563.

This Sacra Conversazione, made for private worship due to its size, must be dated circa 1600 before the reformation of the Saint Vanne monastery in 1604 and the Saint Maur monastery in 1618. The aim of these reforms was to return to the initial vow of poverty and a stricter application of the Benedictine Rule, which was in opposition with individualism, especially in the early period.

Fig. 1 Jean II Limosin, The coronation of the Virgin and a Benedictine monk, private collection; courtesy of Bernard Descheemaeker-Works of Art, Antwerp.

The present plaque is painted with the vivid colors characteristic of the enamel painter Jean II Limosin. A different plaque figuring a Benedictine monk worshiping in front of the Virgin and Child, also signed by Jean II Limosin, presents a similar polychrome floor with gold highlights (fig. 1). Another plaque, of a slightly smaller size than the present one, presents the same characteristics of Jean II Limosin’s production in the employment of blue, green, red and turquoise translucent enamels over foils and the prayers of the Carthusian monks inscribed on phylacteries issuing from the figures’ mouths (The British Museum, inv. 1855,1201.23, fig. 2). Jean II Limosin seems to have specialized in representations of monks worshipping.

Fig. 2 Attributed to Joseph Reymond, ca. 1609. British Museum, inv. 1855,1201.23

Jean II Limosin is the son of Jehan I, younger brother of the celebrated Léonard Limosin. In 1597, he painted a portrait of Bardon de Brun, the founder of a confraternity of penitents in Limoges. An enameled weathervane made for the church of Salignac is signed and dated on one side Jehan Limosin, Esmailleur du Roy, 1619. A lily within the initials I.L. are painted on the reverse.

Given his age at the time of his uncle’s death, Jean II Limosin was likely too young to have been directly influenced by Léonard. Instead, his style was mainly influenced by Jean and Suzanne de Court, both Limoges enamellers. His strong draftsmanship can be seen in the faces of his portraits, which are shown in the sharp profile characteristic of the late 16th century. The fashionable gold highlights and scintillating enamels on foil seen here also appear frequently in his production. In addition to plaques for private devotion, he also painted hunting scenes against green backgrounds as well as some enameled plates and ewers. ❖


inscribed and monogrammed ‘In omnibus requiem quesiui In hereditate dni morabor eccls 24. I.L.’ along the bottom


Private collection, Paris

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