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ALPAIS CIBORIUM

 

According to an old tradition, this ciborium was found in Montmajour near Arles. Without documentation, this origin is still unproven. It is one of the Limousin enamellers’ finest creations. This piece displays an inscription stating its Limoges workmanship and features the name of its maker, key elements in the history of Limousin enamels. Moreover, the perfection in the processing and style make it a masterpiece from the 1200’s.

 

The ciborium consists of two bulging cups  fitting one inside the other supported by  a small conical foot. The latter is decorated with characters and monsters running amongst foliated scrolls which are processed in a very smooth manner. On the inside of the upper cup is engraved the blessing hand of God and, on the inside of the lower cup, features a half-lengh angel wrapped around with the inscription.

 

On the ouside, busts of several angels, of the twelve Apostles and of the four prophets, framed within  rhombs, are processed in champlevé enamel. Lastly, the upper cup is surmounted with a knob featuring angels busts. The most spoken-about element is the frieze of “pseudo-Kufic” characters running around the rim of the lower cup. This type of ornamentation was a recurring theme in Limoges (work)  and long assimilated in Aquitaine.

 

The rather stylized, processing of the faces on the cups, appears on numerous XII Century pieces of work, mostly in Limoges, as seen on the Reliquary Casket of Ambazac, for instance. These heads, though, distinguish themselves by the softening of the contour of the face and the expression, tendency also seen in the characters on the foot and of the knope. Accordingly, while the drapes of the busts still follow the Roman linear trends, the characters on the foot display some animation, precursor to the gothic style. The ciborium is hence a beacon piece influenced by early gothic art while bearing marks of Romanesque traditions. 

 

The inscription on the inside of the lower cup reveals that  a certain G. Alpais made this ciborium in Limoges and that he claimed paternity for his work. This individual is refered to as “Master” and often appears in the Limousin archives. Even though little is known to us on this individual, this ciborium proves that Master Apais was highly proficient in Champlevé enamel work. Besides, he managed to display a wide range of goldsmithery skills, here applied to perfection.

 

(Source - Musée du Louvre)

PYX OR CUSTODES

 

The term pyx come from the greek pyxis and describes a box. It is an Eucharistic storage box for consecrated hosts intended for the communion of the faithfuls and the sick; cylindrical in shape, with a flat bottom and a conical lid topped with a cross or a ball. The inside, necessarily gilgded, sometimes consists of a cupula. Some pyxes are mounted on a stem (“peduncle”). Pyxes have a similar use to that of a ciborium which supplanted them at the end of the Middle Ages.

 

 The first mentions of Limousin pyxes (or small boxes) appear in 1220. In 1229, during the Council of Worcester, Bishop William of Blois specifies that the liturgical objects needed by a church include : “two pyxes, one in silver, one in ivory or in Limoges Work, or any other pyx to hold the consacreted hosts, equipped with a key for safe keeping”

 

At times several pyxes were in use, one for the hosts of the Eucharist before their consecration, the other for the consecratred hosts, and also for the communion of the sick. Produced in large quantity, these objects display an unpretentious decoration, fleur-de-lys, Christ monogram HIS, vegetal interlacings, often fancy coats of arms. The Pyx in the Louvre Museum features a graceful ornamention of angels, frequently seen of Limousin pyxes, may be as innuendo to the designation of the Eucharist as the “angel’s bread”

 

(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

The Eucharistic Coffret (Box)

 

Other Eucharistic boxes took different forms ...

 

They are called Capsa (Capsella), squared shaped with a four-sided roof and much larger than the pyxes. The four sides of these objects allowed for the display an iconography emphasising the sacrifice and the resurrection of Christ, creating a link between the aspect and the use of Eucharistic tabernacles.

Eucharistic “Coffret”, part of the Grandmont Treasure.

This  ivory rectangular box, in enamel from the Limoges workshops, belonged to the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (Museum of Burgos)

It was capped with a pyramid trunk lid consisted originally of ivory plates attached on a wooden core. As Caliphs Abd al  Rahman III and al-Hakam II had access to a large supply of ivory for the production of many objects, during the XI century, at the time of the Taifas, supply notably dwindled, as attested in this box, made of several gradually attenuating plates,  joined together with the same material and nailed on a wooden core.

Its shape, in tune with Byzantine models, is found on other boxes in ivory or of goldsmith craft. Originally, all sides of the box were of carved ivory, but soon, the left end side and the upper parts of the lid have been lost and replaced with copper plates decorated with Champlevé enamel. On both of the main sides, a band ornated with an elegant foliated scroll highlights the upper part of the box. On one of the  sides, a Christian scenery inspired from the history of San Domingo de Silos Monastery, where this box was long preserved, features Santo Domingo holding a Reliquary Casket, flanked by two angels, depicted in the Byzantine tradition. On the upper part of the lid, the Mystic Lamb, between the Alpha and the Omega, fits in a central swirl, surrounded by birds with tails ending in spirals.

 

The scenary, carved in ivory, features the traditional princely pleasures of the Islamic civilisation: lion hunt, animal fights,a galloping horseman fighting a lion attacking his horse. These patterns are of Eastern origin; the theme of combat between a strong quadruped (lion) and more vulnerable animals (cattle, horses) is already well recorded in Pre-Achaemenid Persia where it represents the power of the sovereign. A large number of animals are also depicted: griffins,  winged unicorns facing each other on both sides of a tree, gazelles and a lion cub. On one side, peacocks with long entwined necks, flanked with long horns deers occupy the central panel. The peacock, symbol of immortality of the soul in the Christian world, was revivified in the Islamic World with other connotations. Peacoks with entwined necks are a constant feature in the Islamic ornamentation between X and XIII centuries. Although this box still conveys the influence of Cordoba ivory trade, particularly in the foliage representation, it distances itself from it by minimizing the decoration, through repeatitive patterns and through a plain and  crude decoration as seen on the box of identical shape, found in the Cathedral of Palencia, which is also enhanced with Champlevé enamels.

CROSSES AND RELIQUARY CROSSES

 

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.

 

 

 

Cross originating from the Abbey of Bonneval (Aveyron), hight 61cm and width 35cm, Paris, National Museum of the Middle Ages.

Many crucifixes are incomplete. In the majority of cases, only the central plate with the crucified Christ, and sometimes only an applique figure of the Virgin Mary or Saint John, or a plate or a mere fragment of the end of an arm.

 

Judging by their size and type, most of the preserved crucifixes were evidently meant for a dual liturgical purpose, as an altar cross and a processional cross. The base of the vertical mount would often end with a wooden or metal “tenon” for insertion into a kind of pipe sets on the altar, or in a nozzle attached to the top of the processional staff. This way, the function of the crucifix could easily vary. The wooden “tenon” suvived on four of the Norwegian crucifixes. The prevalent iconographic representation of Christ is that of a crowned Christ.

 

 

(Source - L'Oeuvre de Limoges et sa diffusion - Trésors, objets, collections)

 

THE GEMELLIONS

 

From the latin gemellus (twin), the term “gemellion”refers to circular shallow cups, made in pairs, to be used as fountain and basin for handwash. Their liturgical purpose is documented, but their secular and mostly heraldic or courteous decoration, mostly found on the preserved enamelled gemellions, attest instead of their success in the secular world.

 

The upper basin is equipped with a gargoyle, shaped as a lion mask,  fed through six holes. Although these vessels therefore come as pair, gemellions means twins, they are not always preserved together.

 

As early as the IX century and all along the medieval era, inventories mention quite large donations of gemellions or basins, sometimes in precious material but mostly made of enamelled copper. They seem to fall in disuse from the XIV century.

 

(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

 

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CANDELSTICS

 

Placed on the altar, often in pairs, candelsticks were produced in the Limousin workshops from the XII and mostly from the XIII century. Modestly sized, they consist of a cylindrical shaft, often decorated with interweavings and cut in the middle by a knop, favoured space for decorations of windings, florets and fantastic birds.

 

At top end of the shaft, the drip-tray holds the wax of the candle affixed to the pin.The usually three footed pyramidal base is also decorated with interlacings. During the XIII century, candlestick are heightened by multiplying knops.

 

There are also travel candlesticks, whose feet can slide one into another to turn into a single one, herewith facilitating the storage. The latter, as well as mobile candelsticks, nesting one inside the other, of which one set is preserved in the Louvre Museum, rather seem to be for secular use; it is difficult to know their use with certainty .

 

(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

Liturgical church furnishing

Traditionally, liturgical objects were preferably made of gold or siver, precious materials suitable to glorify the divine spirit but too expensive for rural churches or small communities which somehow turned to champlevé enamels to decorate the altar of their sanctuaries.

The great amount  of preserved liturgical objects testifies that Limousin workshops produced them in large quantities and exported them throughout Europe.

 

Widely distributed across Occidental Europe as early as XIII century, liturgical objects, thanks to their core material of little value, have undoubtly avoided being subjected to the numerous smeltings of those made in gold or silver. Although they were commonly dismantled during the XIX century, they integrated collections, at times severed from parts of their ornamention,  they nonetheless represent a very interesting aspect of the Work of Limoges.

 

(Source - Catherine GOUGEON, documentaliste au département des Objets d'Art, musée du Louvre / Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age - Dossier de l'Art)

 

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The construction wave of churches at the beginning of XII century amplifies the demand for liturgical furnishing, vasa sacra et vasa non sacra. The first group consists of sacred vessels used for the connection with bread and wine: a chalice, a pyx and a ciborium (receptacles for the hosts), as well as cruets containing water and wine. These objects were consecrated or blessed before use since they connected with the sacred elements of the Eucharist.

 

Only vasa sacra as well as a small reliquary and an evangilary, were permitted on the altar till the end of X century. Later on, liturgical regulation was progressively introduced and regularly modified. Partly resulting from the evolution of the liturgical rite, these modifications affected the entirety of the Roman Chuch. Following the new specifications, vasa non sacra were slowly accepted on altars in Occidental Europe, first, altar crosses, then candlesticks and other non-holy objects such as thuribles, aquamanilia for the washing  ritual of the priest hands and chrismatories (or vessels for Holy Oils).

 

The entirety of preserved Limousin enamels indicates that these objects were progressively introduced in churches early XIII century. During that time, the dimensions of altars increased lengthwise and widthwise, undoubtly because more space was needed. Moreover, lateral altars were introduced in the knave, may be originally meant for individual contemplation during service or otherwise. Lateral altars accommodated at least a crucifix and a sculpture of the Saint. Hence, throughout the century, demand for altar furnishing continued to increase.

 

(Source - L'Oeuvre de Limoges et sa diffusion - Trésors, objets, collections)

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

HOLY OILS

 

Of a more limited use , christmatories are quite rare in the Limousin manufacture. Shaped like a box with a double bottom pierced with three holes providing for three separate vials to preserve Holy Oils, the Saint’s chrism used for the consecretion of churches, priests and for the Sacrament of Baptism, for the catechumen for Confirmation, the blessing of baptismal fonts and baptism as well as for the anointing of the sick performed for the last rites.

 

The Christmatory preserved in the Church of Saint-Viance in Correze is one of the finest specimens.

 

(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

 

CENSERS

 

During mass, the priest would first incense the altar, the Book of the Gospels, then the offering of bread and wine. Incenses were also used to bless candles, palms and faithfuls. William Durand, in his treaty Rationale divini officii, dating back to the second half of XII century, describe incenses as the symbol of prayers and censers as a methaphor of the Body of Christ.

 

Censers could be made of precious materials or just copper or brass. They usually were paired with an incense boat (navette), small vessel, rectangular or oblong in shape, in which incense is kept.

 

Many censers were evidently produced by Limousin enamellers but their frequent use explains why so few of them reached us.

 

Their function provided for this fine work of perforation and openwork quite rare on liturgical objects and for the use of a rich decoration vocabulary, made of foliated interlacings, of fantastic animals and heads of angels, enhanced by vibrantly coloured enamels.

 

(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

 
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