This beautifully executed enamel once formed part of a set of four allegorical virtues in the collection of the Dukes of Marlborough. They appear in an inventory of the collection executed in 1862, and in the sale catalogue of the 'Blenheim Enamels' at Christie's in 1883. Of the four enamels listed in that catalogue, two are now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (see Verdier, loc. cit.) and the fourth - representing Justice - is in a private collection.
All four enamels almost certainly came into the collection at Blenheim through an unusual bequest made to the family by an 18th century collector named Samuel Spalding. Spalding wrote to the wife of the 4th Duke on 20 December 1793 under the pseudonym of Smith, proposing to donate his collection of Chinese porcelain and French renaissance enamels to the Duke and Duchess if they agreed to certain conditions (British Library, 4th Duke's papers, additional MS 61678, folio 177). The collection had been put together by Spalding himself, having bought from 'some of the finest Cabinets both of France & England which have been put up for sale many years past, such as those of the Dutchefse of Portland, Lady Betty Germain, Dutchefse of Kingston, Lady Townsend & some pieces out of the Princess Amelia's Collection; likewise the Duke d'Aumon's famous collection at Paris, that of the Dutchefse of Mazarine & the old Duke of Richelieu & c'. The enamels, he wrote, would 'do credit to the first Sovereign of Europe.'
Spalding's proposal was that he would give the collection to the Duke and Duchess if they agreed to house it in a purpose-built gallery for its permanent display. This gallery was to be on the grounds of Blenheim Palace and could be in 'Form of a gothic Dairy, chinese Temple or any Ornament of that Kind most agreeable to their Graces Taste'. It was also to include rooms for Spalding himself and a maidservant, although he did not expect any payment as he had a 'small annuity' on which he could survive.
The Duke and Duchess agreed to these conditions and a gallery was constructed to house the collection. In an inventory of 1828, the Copper Enamel Room in the gallery is listed as including 'Sixty small figures in frames' which may have included the present enamel of Fortitude. By the time the collection was catalogued by George Scharf in 1862, the Fortitude was explicitly referred to: 'Fortitudo, a female warrior, wearing a helmet, holding the capital of a column in both hands.' It is highly unlikely that the enamel entered the Marlborough collection following the Spalding donation, as the 4th Duke's heir had squandered his inheritance even before becoming 5th Duke, and it was not until the late 19th century that the family fortunes had improved enough for any serious collecting and building to take place.
The enamel was offered in Christie's sale of the 'Blenheim Enamels' in 1883 (14 June, lot 65A), along with the enamels of Charity, Temperance, and Justice. They remained unsold but may have been negotiated privately after the sale because they next appear in the sale of the celebrated collector Lucien Cottreau in Paris in 1910 (loc. cit.).
Apart from its distinguished provenance, the present enamel is outstanding for the quality of the painting itself. The Penicaud family were among the most important dynasties of enamel painters in 16th century Limoges, and Jean II Penicaud was among its most gifted artists. He is known to have signed a portrait of Martin Luther in around 1531-2, and his last dated work is 1549 (Verdier, op. cit., p. xix). An enamel of Hope in the British Museum - which is a companion piece to the present enamel - is dated 1541, which gives an approximate date for the production of this lot.
We would like to thank John Forster, archivist to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, for his assistance in tracing the provenance of this lot.