Leonard Limosin was the most famous enameller of Renaissance France. He was an original enameller by virtue of the innovative choice of his subjects, skill of his compositions and his sense of colour. This charger attests to the sublime quality of his work in enamel in its design and execution and its adherence to the latest fashions of Renaissance France.
Limosin was associated with the court of Francois I from at least 1536, when he painted his earliest known dated enamel portrait of a member of the French royal family, Eleanor of Austria, the second wife of Francois I. He was probably introduced to the court by the Bishop of Limoges, Jean de Langeac, who was an early patron. Limosin was subsequently patronised by both Francois I and Henri II and by 1545 had become ‘Emailleur pour le roi’.
The front of the platter depicts a scene from the book of Exodus in which the Israelites gather the Manna, the miraculous food which fell from the sky each night and that saved them from starvation in the desert. At the top of the scene, blazing rays of light signal the arrival of divine food (manna) which falls from heaven, as the people below leave their encampment to gather it up. Moses is depicted on the left with Aaron, his arms outstretched, while figures around him kneel in thanks and gather manna into elaborately decorated vessels. The manna is depicted as flake-like objects, like frost on the ground, appropriate because if the manna was not collected early in the morning it would melt with the heat of the desert sun.
The design is based on a print by Agostino Veneziano (1490-1540) made in around 1520, which was itself based on a lost Raphael drawing for the fresco in the eighth arcade of the Vatican Logge. However, this engraving in landscape format has been adapted by Limosin for the platter, with the background and sky added; the latter details were inspired by a woodcut of the same subject by Bernard Salomon. Some features of the the central scene have been removed, such as the wand originally in Moses’ right hand. This scene also adorns the front of another charger (ex-Private Collection, New York) in polychrome, signed to the front by Limosin, which is almost identical in design, although lacking several details and with less definition and depth to the drawing than the present platter. The figures in the present scene are painted in grisaille, a technique that involved building up the design in successive layers of black and white enamel, and are comparable to figures in a plate of the Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche and a plaque of the Arrest of Christ, both by Limosin (both in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, see Verdier, loc. cit.). The decorations on the border and the reverse show how attuned Limosin was to Italian mannerism and that of the Fontainebleau school. These designs were probably influenced by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau’s ornamental designs, specifically his series Petits cartouches de Fontainebleau (1545-7).
The present platter is an interesting example of the circuitous paths of ownership some items in the Rothschild collections followed. Bequeathed by Gustave de Rothschild to his grandson Sir Philip Sassoon, the charger was bought back by a member of the Rothschild family in a sale of works of art belonging to Sassoon and the Countess of Rocksavage at Christie's in 1919.