Produced in large quantities in Limousin, they can be classified into two different categories of crosses. There were very large crosses of which only one specimen is preserved in the Stockholm Museum and a decription of another which was in the Church of Mozac, 84cm high, and was “remarkably lush and vibrant” according to a description dating back to 1846. These crosses were overlaid with copper plates, stamped, adorned with numerous cabochon and applied with half-relief on their main face as well as medallions, enamelled on the reverse. The Louvre Museum preserves two (figures of) Christ, in half-relief, which, undoubtly, decorated the centre of big crosses. The one from the old Martin Le Roy Collection offers a fine example of Limousin Christ where the Saviour, is depicted in glory, alive, his eyes wide open, crowned and dressed with layered clothes.
The processional cross from the Abbey of Bonneval, preserved in the national Museum of the Middle Ages, is one of the most beautiful pieces of early XIII century Southern enamelwork, with a height, originally, of about 60m. It has the particularity of being one of the few models decorated on both sides. Its decoration consists of small Champlevé copper plates, enamelled and gilded with enamelled images on a gilt background, animated with a few engraved ornaments.
Many other plates of smaller crosses are preserved in public collections. These are often stripped of two plates featuring the Virgin and Saint John or the thurifer Angels at the tips of the cross’ arms.
(Source: Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages - Art Dossier)
Crosses are carried at the front of Christian processions. Such crosses have a long history: the Gregorian mission of Augustine of Canterbery in England would usually have one carried ahead of them, according to Bede the Venerable. Other sources suggest that all churches had to own one.
These crosses became removable, enabling them to be detached from the handle and placed on a stand at the end of the procession. The more important churches possess “Cruz Gemmata”, processional crosses, lavishly decorated, often with jewels and precious metals.
(Source - L'Oeuvre de Limoges et sa diffusion - Trésors, objets, collections)
Cross originating from the Abbey of Bonneval (Aveyron), hight 61cm and width 35cm, Paris, National Museum of the Middle Ages.
The central plate of a large processional cross, preserved today in New York, clarifies the attraction that Limousins had for the monumental art of Sicily or Byzantine Greece; it also highlights the independence in historical rythme that made them choose, in the last quarter of XII century, the style of Daphni or Cefalu, that of Parlermo in Roger II’s time , rather than the dynamic style that followed in Montreal.
Remarkable fact, this animated phase of Byzantine Art, synchronic of an identical phase in Rheno-Mosan enamelling, does not appear to have reached the Limousin workshop, yet prominent through its quality of style and execution. It even seems to go back to the serene approach of Macedonian revival in the XI century. A series of very similar crosses, dated back to the decade around 1190 due to their numerous similarities with the plate of Saint Etienne de Muret, suggests a change in taste. They trigger a rupture from Romanesque pressures still in force on another series of much older massive crosses, affiliated, in turn, with mid-century works. The New York cross plate, through the purity and grandeur of its artwork, appears to us to be the oldest and the finest of its group, and therefore, could be dated back to around 1185; the appearance of the initial object is guaranteed by the state in which the famous and virtually complete cross from the old Spitzer collection, today in Cleveland, still stands today. These crosses initiate an iconographic program, specific to Limoges, which readily features Saint Peter at the base of the shaft, and an angel at the top, on the font part, while the reverse features the collorary image, the Lamb on the oldest cross, and then the Majesty of the Saviour with the Evangelists symbols.
Through its dimensions and its origin, this enamel copper (figure of) Christ is a major piece of the “Work of Limoges”. It most probably comes from a cross from the Abbey of Grandmont (Haute-Vienne), important customer of the Limousin workshops. This Christ, executed around 1220-1230, is, through its style and its workmanship, comparable to the Apostles’ images, created for the high altar of the same Abbey, and reveals the first gothic tendencies in the first decades of the XIII century.
The Abbey of Grandmont
The Abbey of Grandmont, near Limoges, was founded by Etienne de Muret (†1124) The priory Church, whose construction was nearly completed by 1166, received, at different periods, several Champlevé enamel copper pieces. The Abbey had a large impact on the expansion of the “Work of Limoges” (Opus Lemovicense). A high Altar, depicting the life of Etienne de Muret, was commissioned for the church, around 1190.
Then, towards 1220-1225, the realisation of the main altar took place with the apostolic college. By the end of the French Revolution, Grandmont still possessed the Large Cross of the Altar of Prime, adorned with Limoges enamels. This large cross is described at the end of the XVI century by Prior Pardoux de la Garde, then in 1790 by Abbot Legros who mentions that this cross featured a crowned Christ anf that it was 2,70m high.
A monumental Christ
The dimentions of the (figure in the) Louvre of Christ matches the big height of the cross. This embossed figure is of considerable aesthetic standard similar to that of the Apostles of Grandmont, of which two are preserved in the Museum of Petit Palais in Paris and another in the Louvre. A copper half-shell is welded to the reverse of the Christ’s head, giving it the volume of a half-hump. Christ was not the only figure of this cross which plausibly featured two other figures and an inscription. One of them is likely to be the Deacon of Billanges (Haute-Vienne, preserved in the Church of the Nativity of Saint-John-The-Baptist), slightly smaller than he Christ. The copper coating of this cross was bought during the Revolution by Coutaud, a foundryman from Limoges.
A characteristic work of early Gothic art in Limousin
The figure of Christ was shaped through intense copper embossing in order to retrieve the figurine out of the copper plate. The body is smoothly crafted, slightly bent and draped with a flowing loincloth (perizonium). The face is serene and the eyes are enlightened by an enamel pearl. Locks of hair and the beard are enhanced with delicate engraved lines. The repetitive quality of the engravings is another common feature with that of the Apostles of the Grandmont high altar. The (image of the) face breakswith Romanesque traditions and reveals great concern for human truthfulness and expression. This piece of work was produced at a time when Limoges artists favoured delicate lines, slightly curved and round faces with severe and serene expression. These innovations reflect the licencing of the early Gothic Art wawe by Limousin workshops. The Louvre Christ is one amongst the finest Limousin specimens of early XIII century.
(Source - Les émaux Musée du Louvre)