This enamel plaque, in the Northen Renaissance or Mannerist style, signed by P. Soyen, is redolent of the production of Limoges. Limoges has long been particlarly associated with the quality production of decorative enamel wares.
An enamelled card case in a similar style, depicting in the centre a medallion with the likeness of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II of France, surrounded by grotesques and strapwork, was exhibited in the French Court of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876. In discussing this object the introduction to the catalogue found it necessary to explain the process of the technique. It explains that the art of painting with enamel colours, as opposed to cloisonn or champlev, was first practised in Limoges and brought to perfection there, particularly in the 16th century when famous paintings by Titian or Raphael, known through engravings, were among those to be adapted. The catalogue further says 'So great was the desire to posses articles decorated with enamels, that for a season the goldsmith's chisel was superseded by the enameller's pencil, and dishes, vases, cups and objects of ornament gilttered with brilliant colours that concealed wholly or partially the precious metals beneath. A long list of famous names is connected with the enamel-painter's art during the period when it was most practised. As time advanced, new methods of enamelling were discovered, and toward the latter end of the 17th century the process of painting portraits in miniature was brought to a high degree of perfection. Some of these are perfect marvels of delicacy, both in colour and finish. The same processes were applied to the painting of natural objects, such as flowers, birds and butterflies, on trinkets and all kinds of small personal ornaments, and the deocration soon became so fashionable that it was applied to the baser metals.'
The present large plaque, while referring to 16th century Limoges enamel, also looks to 16th century Italian majolica decoration for its inspiration. The use of a profile 'portrait' became a popular form of decoration during the Renaissance, deriving from antique medals. By the early 16th century these profiles were frequently surrounded by fantastical grotesques, often half-animal or bird and half-foliate, which derived from the decorations found on the walls of recently excavated Roman villas. The flamboyant feathers of the sitter's hat, however, rather reflect the agitated style of German woodcarving of the 16th century. This Renaissance style was eagerly revived in the 19th century; one of the attractions of the 1851 Exhibition in London was a majolica charger decorated in a related manner to the present plaque, but displaying a profile portrait of Queen Victoria.