In the long history of enamel production in Limoges, the painted enamels of the 16th century are among the high points, and Pierre Reymond is among the most celebrated proponents of this art form. His client list remains tantalizingly discreet, but he was patronized by the wealthiest collectors of 16th century Europe, the Queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici and Anne de Montmorency, Marshall and Constable of France, among others. And the present lot combines four spectacular panels by the hand of the master Reymond himself and done at the height of his long career.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
As with so many of Reymond's works, a number of his scenes have been taken from print sources. While there does not appear to be a direct source for the present enamels, many of the Limoges enamels of the period, and those of Reymond, in particular, appear to have been strongly influenced by the prints of Albrecht Dürer. One comparison being The Last Judgement in the Wallace Collection (S. Higgott, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Glass and Limoges Painted Enamels, London 2011, no. 67). These two grisaille enamels, almost certainly from the 1540’s, are hyper-sophisticated examples of Reymond’s painterly abilities with both subtle and intriguing compositions that recede into the background, but still retain their lush and precise details. Probably the closest comparable to the present enamel is a single panel of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, attributed to Pierre Reymond’s workshops and now in the Frick Collection (I. Wardropper and J. Day, Limoges Enamels at the Frick Collection, London, 2015, no. 22). There are considerable differences between the Frick and the present version but the delicate laurel leaf frames of the circular ‘sorrows’ are identical. Dated 1533, the Frick version is one of Reymond’s earliest works and while of marvelous quality and with gorgeous deep colors, the larger figures are considerably less sophisticated than in the present enamel. The present enamel was clearly a rare, and, except for the Frick version, possibly unique composition for Reymond, and the present example, a far more complex set of enamel panels when compared to the Frick version, illustrates the progress of the master’s technical abilities in a little over ten years.
Religious imagery is rarer in Reymond’s works than in the enamels of many of his contemporaries. As Higgott notes, most of the surviving Reymond enamels with Christian themes date from the 1530’s and 1540’s. Though Reymond did continue to produce grisaille enamels into the 1560’s and 1570’s with the flesh tones and gilding being the only color highlights (Op. cit., pp. 238-239). But the present enamel was clearly done when the artist was operating at the height of his technical abilities. As is evident from the quality of the enamels produced during the 1540’s – the highest-quality of his long career -- these were the years that Reymond was most intensely involved in the production and management of his workshop. And Caroselli confirms that the quality began to fluctuate and eventually decline during the 1550’s and 1560’s as Reymond was less involved in the actual production of the enamels (S. Caroselli, The Painted Enamels of Limoges: A Catalogue of the Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York, 1993, pp. 80-81). Thus the present enamel is an outstanding example from the years when Reymond was personally producing his highest quality enamels.
THE MYSTERY OF THE COAT-OF-ARMS
The front of the case is decorated with a coat-of arms with an azure ground with two gold chevrons between three stars, or mullets, with eight straight-sided rays which are either gold or silver. There are three nearly identical coats-of-arms that may link the enamel to these French families. Both the de Sarrazin family, seigneur de Saint-Martin, in Franche-Comté since the 14th century and the de Varisque family, seigneur de Beauregard, in Champagne, and ennobled in 1527, have the exact coat-of-arms and coloration represented on the present case. However, the de Varisque coat-of-arms has stars with five points, unlike the present coat-of-arms with eight points. It is unclear how many points the stars in the de Sarrazin coat-of-arms have. So that remains a possibility. As does the du Rousset family, seigneurs de Morfontaine and Burzé in Franche-Comté and the Ile-de-France, where the number of points on the stars is also not identified (R. de Warren, Grand Armorial de France. Catalogue général des armoiries des familles nobles de France, vol. VI, pp. 170, 405 and 83, respectively). While it is possible the case and its painted surfaces are later, samples tested from the coat-of-arms show the blue of the background of the coat-of-arms is painted directly on the chalk gesso layer and is made of blue verditer – an artificial copper carbonate rarely used after c. 1700 – and so this is strong evidence of a 16th or 17th provenance for the coat-of-arms and case.
Whatever the early provenance of the present enamel, it was certainly made for a hyper-cultivated and discerning private patron and remains, miraculously, as beautiful as when it was first commissioned.