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A GILT-COPPER AND POLYCHROME ENAMEL RECTANGULAR RELIQUARY CHASSE
A GILT-COPPER AND POLYCHROME ENAMEL RECTANGULAR RELIQUARY CHASSE

LIMOGES, CIRCA 1200

Details
A GILT-COPPER AND POLYCHROME ENAMEL RECTANGULAR RELIQUARY CHASSE
LIMOGES, CIRCA 1200
THE FRONT DEPICTING THE MARTYRDOM OF ST SATURNINUS, THE ENDS EACH WITH A STANDING SAINT AND THE REVERSE WITH HINGED DOOR AND A REPEATING QUADRILOBE PATTERN, THE UNDERSIDE WITH FOUR PAPER LABELS INSCRIBED 'K 87 I 262', '2824', 'MSE 102 62 (87)' AND 'RMP. 269'; MINOR LOSSES AND REPLACEMENTS
5 5/8 X 6 3/8 X 2 5/8 IN. (14.3 X 16.2 X 6.7 CM.)
Provenance
R. VON PASSAVANT-GONTARD COLLECTION, FRANKFURT, PURCHASED 1873.
SCHLOSS ROHANCZ COLLECTION.
BARONESS GABRIELLE BENTINCK-THYSSEN; SOLD SOTHEBY'S LONDON, 7 DECEMBER 1995, LOT 35.
Literature
FRANKFURT, 'SAMMLUNG R. VON PASSAVANT-GONTARD', DRITTE VERöFFENTLICHUNG DES STäDELSCHEN KUNSTINSTITUTS, 1929, NO. 112.
SCHLOSS ROHANCZ COLLECTION, 1937 CATALOGUE, III, NO. 87.
Exhibited
FRANKFURT, AUSTELLUNG ALTER GOLDSCHMIEDARBEITEN AUS FRANKFURTER PRIVATBESITZ UND KIRCHENSCHäTZE, MAY - JUN. 1914, NO. 105.
MUNICH, SAMMLUNG SCHLOSS ROHANCZ, 1930, NO. 37, PL. 17.
PARIS, INSTITUT NéERLANDAIS, CHOIX DE LA COLLECTION BENTINCK, 20 MAY - 28 JUN.
LAUSANNE, FONDATION DE L'HERMITAGE, LA COLLECTION BENTINCK-THYSSEN, 27 JUN. - 18 SEP. 1986, NO. 62.
BRUSSELS, DE BRUEGHEL à GUARDI: LA COLLECTION BENTINCK-THYSSEN, APR. - JUN. 1987.

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Lot Essay

FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY LIMOGES BECAME THE MAIN CENTRE FOR THE PRODUCTION AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF POLYCHROME ENAMELS. THE EVOLUTION OF CHAMPLEVé ENAMELS IN THIS REGION DURING THE LAST FOUR DECADES OF THE TWELFTH CENTURY IS FUNDAMENTALLY TIED TO THE PATRONAGE OF PLANTAGENêT SOVEREIGNS, MASTERS OF AQUITAINE, AND THE INCREASE IN POPULARITY IN THE CULT OF SAINTS' RELICS AND PERSONAL DEVOTIONAL OBJECTS. THE NATURE OF THE ENAMEL WORKSHOP SYSTEM - WHICH CONSISTED OF NUMEROUS WORKSHOPS ACTIVE IN A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT LOCATIONS AND PERIODS BUT ALL WORKING IN A SIMILAR STYLE - MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO DATE OR ATTRIBUTE LIMOGES ENAMELS WITH ANY CERTAINTY. NONETHELESS, SUCCESSIVE SCHOLARS HAVE ATTEMPTED TO GROUP ENAMELS AROUND SHARED MOTIFS, AND HAVE IDENTIFIED A STYLISTIC DEVELOPMENT BETWEEN 1150 AND 1220.

ALTHOUGH ENAMEL PRODUCTION WOULD LATER EXPAND INTO THE AREA OF DOMESTIC OBJECTS, IT WAS ORIGINALLY CENTRED ON LITURGICAL WORKS OF ART, AND RELIQUARY 'CHASSES' WERE AMONG THE MOST IMPORTANT FORMS. THESE CHASSES WERE PRINCIPALLY COMMISSIONED BY ECCLESIASTICAL DIGNITARIES OR BY THE KING'S ENTOURAGE IN ORDER TO PROTECT AND COMMEMORATE SAINTS' RELICS. THE GEOMETRIC SHAPE OF THE RELIQUARY CHASSE SYMBOLICALLY RECALLS THAT OF AN ANCIENT SARCOPHAGUS BUT ALSO ECHOES THE SHAPE OF A CHURCH. THE OAK CARCASE WAS COVERED WITH A COAT OF WHITE GROUND, FOLLOWED BY A LAYER OF RED PAINT AND THEN COVERED WITH CHAMPLEVé ENAMELLED COPPER SHEETS. THE PRINCIPAL DEVELOPMENT OF CHASSES IN THE ROMANESQUE PERIOD INVOLVED THE MANNER OF DEPICTING THE HUMAN FIGURE. IN AROUND 1200, ARTISTS OFTEN INCORPORATED CAST GILT-COPPER HEADS OR ENTIRE FIGURES WHICH WERE APPLIED IN RELIEF.

THE INCREDIBLY RARE REPRESENTATION ON THE FRONT OF THIS PARTICULAR ENAMEL CASKET DEPICTS THE MARTYRDOM OF ST. SATURNINUS (ALSO KNOWN AS ST. SERNIN). FORTUNATUS RECOUNTS HOW SATURNINUS, WHO BECAME THE FIRST BISHOP OF TOULOUSE IN THE MID-3RD CENTURY AD, CONVERTED A GREAT NUMBER OF IDOLATERS THOUGH HIS PREACHING AND MIRACLES. THE FORMER, WHO WROTE ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AFTER SATURNINUS' DEATH, RELATES THAT HE ASSEMBLED HIS CONGREGATION IN A SMALL CHURCH AT ONE END OF TOWN. HOWEVER, TO REACH HIS PARISH HE HAD TO PASS BEFORE THE CAPITOLE WHERE THERE WAS A PAGAN TEMPLE. THE PAGAN PRIESTS ASCRIBED THE SILENCE OF THEIR ORACLES TO HIS FREQUENT PASSINGS AND ONE DAY THEY SEIZED HIM DECLARING THAT HE SHOULD EITHER APPEASE THE OFFENDED DEITIES BY OFFERING SACRIFICE TO THEM OR EXPIATE THE CRIME WITH HIS BLOOD. SATURNINUS DEFIED THE PAGANS WHO, INCENSED AT HIS REPLY, TIED HIS FEET TO A WILD BULL, WHICH HAD ORIGINALLY BEEN BROUGHT TO BE SACRIFICED. THE BEAST BEING DRIVEN FROM THE TEMPLE, RAN VIOLENTLY DOWN THE HILL SO THAT THE MARTYR'S SKULL WAS BROKEN AND HIS BRAINS DASHED OUT. WHEN THE CORD FINALLY BROKE, WHAT REMAINED OF THE BODY WAS LEFT IN THE OPEN UNTIL TWO DEVOUT WOMEN LAID THE REMAINS ON A BIER AND BURIED THEM IN A DEEP DITCH. ALTHOUGH HIS REMAINS WERE LATER MOVED, THIS BURIAL SITE BECAME THE FOUNDATION FOR THE CHURCH NOTRE DAME DU TAUR (OUR LADY OF THE BULL). SOME OF ST SATURNINUS' RELICS ARE STILL PRESERVED IN THE CHURCH OF ST SERNIN IN TOULOUSE AND, GIVEN THE VERY SPECIFIC AND UNUSUAL NATURE OF THIS CASKET'S ICONOGRAPHY, IT IS LIKELY THAT THE PRESENT CASKET WAS EXECUTED TO HOUSE SOME OF THESE RELICS ALMOST 1000 YEARS AFTER THE SAINT'S MARTYRDOM.

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