National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 6, 1982-1983 

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Four Sixteenth-Century Painted Enamels

by Philippe Verdier

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  

A coloured-enamel Crucifixion by Jean II in the Louvre is stamped on the reverse and initialed on the obverse, and dated 1542  (12) (fig. 5). Christ's right hand, shown in the act of blessing, and the shining crown of thorns bring to mind the crucifixion in the Hermitage. However, there is the same heroic anatomy as in the Ottawa Corpus. Mary Magdalene is portrayed in a more peasant style and in her traditional pose; the contours of her breasts can be seen under the cloth. As in medieval allegories, the work is encumbered with banderoles bearing inscriptions of verses from the Psalms and Isaiah announcing and foreshadowing the Crucifixion. The shield leaning against the cross is quartered by the griffin, which surmounts the shield in the same place as on the Leningrad enamel, and indicates a member of the Épinay family. Mary Magdalene is also shown embracing the cross on the anonymous grisaille Crucifixion at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (13) (fig. 6). The Corpus in this work resembles the Ottawa Corpus. The rays of light around Christ's head alternate with fleurons, which originated in late Middle Ages' illumination work. The legs of the Virgin and Saint John are again in very short, as in the Hermitage Crucifixion. The Virgin seems transfixed; Saint John appears suspended in a strange dance step. The drawing is bordered and hard, as in the enamels of Jean II, but the outlines of the forms are blurred, though not sfumato.

In 1885, a Crucifixion signed "I. P." and stamped on the reverse, went from the Watelin collection to the castle at GotuChow. (14) A stamped enamel Pax showing the Crucifixion belonged, in 1908, to someone named Pollak, according to a note by J. J. Marquet de Vasselot in the papers he left to the Louvre. (15) The emaciated Corpus in the Hermitage enamel, and the Virgin with clenched, intertwined fingers, and Saint John in a striding position in the Baltimore Crucifixion, (16) are all present on one of the ten oval grisaille medallions portraying the Passion on the base of a monstrance or chalice ( upper part missing), at the Victoria and Albert Museum (C. 2427-1910) (17) (fig. 7). The drapery, in curving folds and swirls, on this Crucifixion medallion is similar to that on the Baltimore Crucifixion.

The portrayal of Saint John with dishevelled hair, and of the holy woman with her head veiled in the Ottawa Crucifixion, resembles the portrayal of Nicodemus and the Virgin in an entombment scene sold at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris on 19 March 1946, and later acquired by Gabrielle Kopelman of New York (fig. 8). This entombment scene is a grisaille enamel executed on a rectangular plaque, cut out along the top, into which recess originally fit the medallion portraying the Christ Child among the scholars, at the Victoria and Albert Museum (790-1877). (18) These subjects are arranged exactly the same way in a group of eleven scenes from the life of Christ which border a large Ascension plaque (Hermitage Museum). (19) All the coloured enamels in this composite work bear the stamp of Jean II Pénicaud on the reverse.

As Jennifer Godsell indicated in her doctoral thesis on Master KIP and the Limoges grisaille enamellers, (20) defended in 1981 at Cambridge University in England, the National Gallery Crucifixion is connected with a group of enamels in the Louvre, recognized by J. J. Marquet de Vasselot as being from the school of Jean II Pénicaud: the Virgin and Child, the Family of Saint Anne (fig. 9), Saint Catherine, and Saint Jerome. (21) In the Family of Saint Anne, the figure on the left resembles the holy woman to the left of the Virgin in the Ottawa Crucifixion. The figure on the right (fig. 10) has the same hair style as the Mary Magdalene in the Ottawa Crucifixion, (22) and her hand is in the same position, with the wrist bent. The Louvre enamels and the Ottawa Crucifixion all demonstrate the sfumato technique and feature the same physiognomy and anatomy, analysed by Jennifer Godsell in the following way: corners of the mouth dropping to form a "V," small pointed noses with turned-up nostrils, slit eyes, and abnormally thin wrists.

In attributing the Ottawa Crucifixion to the school of Jean II Pénicaud, should we assume that the author was Jean III? A large number of grisaille enamels, most featuring a curious technique of white gouache-like touches resembling bits of foam, have been attributed to this enigmatic artist. In the Pénicaud dynasty, he must be the "Pénicaud esmalheur" (enameller), referred to in documents from 1573 and 1576, at the Limoges archives and mentioned in 1571 and 1578 as being among the consuls of Limoges. If he was the son of Jean II, how long was he in his father's studio before becoming an independent master? Was his first style chiaroscuro, before the impressionistic brush touches? I have ascribed to him two enamels at the St Louis Museum in Missouri. They clearly display the same grisaille technique as the Crucifixion at the National Gallery. One represents Alexander the Great having Homer's Iliad placed in a sarcophagus (fig. 11), and is based on the grisaille fresco of Giovanni Francesco Penni in the Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura (engraved by Marcantonio). The other work is thought to represent Alexander before the priests of Ammon (fig. 12). (23) Like the Ottawa Crucifixion, these two works have shadow punctuated by spears, gleams of light, the clinging of cloth to spongy-looking bodies. On the base and cover of a tazza enamelled in grisaille (fig. 13a), attributed to Pierre or Jean III Pénicaud and now at the Walters Art Gallery,(24) the sfumato and gouache styles are juxtaposed. One finds again the whinnying horse, and the centurions Roman helmet and plated chest armour (fig. 13b) seen in the Ottawa Crucifixion. The attribution of the National Gallery's Crucifixion to Jean III is merely a plausible hypothesis, though, and perhaps a document, or a comparison with a signed work, will one day make it possible to establish the artist's identity.

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