LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250
LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250
LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250
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LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250
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LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250

Processional Cross

LIMOGES, CIRCA 1230-1250
Processional Cross
gilt-copper and polychrome enamel; the obverse with an applied figure of Christ Crucified, the terminals each with an applied standing saint; the reverse with a central mandorla of Christ in Majesty, the terminals with symbols of the Four Evangelists; minor losses and minor elements of the enamel later; the cross reduced along its vertical axis
16 7/8 x 13 ¾ in. (43 x 35 cm.), 20 ½ in. (52 cm.) high, overall
E. Rupin, L'Oeuvre de Limoges, Paris, 1890.
P. Clemen, Die Kunstdenkmäler der Rheinprovinz, XV, part II, Dusseldorf, 1936, p. 281, fig. 186.
P. Thoby, Les croix Limousines de la fin du XIIe siècle au début du XIVe siècle, Paris, 1953, pp. 45-48.
V. K. Ostoia, The Middle Ages: Treasures from the Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1969, no. 61, pp. 134-135 and 257.
M.-M. Gauthier, Émaux du moyen âge occidental, Fribourg, 1972.
M.-M. Gauthier, Émaux Meriodonaux: Catalogue International de L'Oeuvre de Limoges: 1. L'Epoque Romane, Paris, 1987.
B. Drake Boehm and E. Taburet-Delahaye eds., Enamels of Limoges 1100-1350, Paris and New York, 1995.
C. Simonetta, Smalti di Limoges del XIII secolo: Collezione del Museo civico d'arte antica di Torino, Turin, 2014.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

This previously unpublished processional cross from the collection of Franz Koenigs is thought to have been acquired in the 1920s or 1930s. It is an intricate and large-scale survival of the types of enamelwork created in Limoges, France, in the medieval period. Its polychromatic decoration was created using the champlevé technique, which literally translates to 'raised fields' referring to the process in which areas of a copper plate were dug out and filled with powdered glass to create colourful patterns. Once fired, the enamel became a durable substance and suited for use in the decoration of frequently handled liturgical objects such as book covers, reliquaries, pyxes and candlesticks. The materials were cheaper than gold and precious stones but created a similarly jewel-like effect suited to objects with a sacred function. Thanks to the durability of the material, many examples survive although it is rare to find an object of this scale still in private hands.
In the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries Limoges was the most important, and sought after, centre for champlevé enamels and home to a flourishing network of metalworkers to support the widespread demand. The pieces created there, with their predominately blue palette, became popular among the English and French elite, in particular the Plantagenet monarchs such as Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. They were often given as diplomatic gifts throughout Europe and taken by Crusaders to the Holy Land. There is also reference to what may be Limoges work in China, perhaps taken by Franciscan monks in the 13th and 14th centuries (see Boehm and Taburet-Delahaye op. cit. p. 46). Although predominantly for religious purposes some domestic items such as belt buckles survive demonstrating that the craze for Limoges extended into all areas of daily life for the medieval elite.
A cross such as this is likely to have been used in procession during the liturgy, hence the care shown to the decoration on both sides. The inclusion of gilt bronze figures on top of the enamel to the front were intended to be visible to those meditating on the piece from afar. The narrative of the cross conveys the story of Christ's suffering and sacrifice on behalf of mankind. He is shown on the front at the Crucifixion, and the four figures at the end of each terminal represent some of those present at the event, with the Virgin and Saint John shown on the left and right terminals. Above Christ’s head the hand of God can be seen represented in gold pointing down from the clouds to indicate the Saviour. When viewed from the reverse the tale of sacrifice turns to one of ultimate redemption with Christ in Majesty shown in the centre seated on a heavenly throne and making the sign of blessing with Alpha and Omega symbols above his shoulders. Surrounding him on the terminals are three winged animals and a man, signifying the four Evangelists.
The present lot is closely connected to a larger group of Limoges crosses discussed by Thoby (loc. cit.) which all follow the same broader iconographic layout with Christ Crucified in relief against an enameled background to the front and in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the Evangelists on the reverse. The closest comparison from the group is the cross now housed in the Metropolitan Museum, New York also dated to 1230-1250 (accession no. 17.190.332, see Ostoia loc. cit.) which similarly features a gilt figure of Christ shown crowned and affixed to a green enameled cross decorated with an undulating gold line. Rock crystal cabochons, included on the front four arms of the Metropolitan cross, are likely to have also originally been part of the design of the present lot and the piece was subsequently shortened after their removal. The cabochons may have also been in front of holy relics as is the case with several other examples, most commonly parts of the ‘True Cross’.

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