This well-preserved enamelled plaque fits in neatly with a series of small-scale enamels with religious subjects that is generally attributed to one of the foremost Limoges enamellers, Pierre Reymond (1513–1584).
Especially the figure of Joseph, represented robed and down on one knee with his hands clasped in adoration of the Child, relates closely to a group of plaques with arched tops representing Saints John the Baptist and Jerome of which a signed example is in the Wallace Collection (Higott, op.cit.). Aside from Joseph’s posture Reymond’s hand is recognisable in the treatment of the faces, which include characteristic heavy brows represented by contrasting white under-enamel with piercing dark eyes and only a slightly pink skin tone. Typical for Reymond’s work is also his penchant for representing architecture outlined in soft black lines and coloured with greys and brandy-toned browns and offset against starry ultramarine skies. Note for example the similarities with a set of four scenes from the Passion of Christ that Reymond painted after prints by Dürer in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and which are dated to 1535–1540 (see Caroselli, op.cit., nos. 5-8).
Three of the aforementioned plaques in Los Angeles also include a rarely discussed trait of Reymond’s work, namely the secular reliefs he embeds in the architecture of his columns, thrones and tombs. These little follies mimic the Roman reliefs that Reymond and his Renaissance contemporaries imagined as integral parts of biblical towns such as Bethlehem. In Reymond’s case they depict one or two daringly posed or battling nudes schematised through a seemingly effortless play of light and dark. In the present enamel one of these Roman reliefs even takes centre stage, partially obscuring the Christ Child, a stark reminder of the dangers Christ will have to face on the road ahead. A plaque in a Dutch private collection that also incorporates two of these reliefs on columns is dated 1543, reinforcing the idea that this plaque was made around the same time, before Reymond switched to a mainly grisaille technique for decorating plates and vessels. The method used for the figures on the reliefs is repeated for the sheep, shepherds and angels that make up the Annunciation of the Shepherds in the background on the right.
Pierre Reymond and his workshop had the most prolific output of all the 16th-century enamellers, making plaques, plates, vessels and candlesticks with religious, mythological and allegorical subjects. Reymond successfully met the great demand for enamels by revolutionising his workshop practices. This involved repeating fashionable decorative patterns but also relying on graphic sources for the scenes. Nevertheless the quality of his work is second to none and has been coveted by collectors throughout the centuries, from Queen Catherine de’ Medici of France to Frédéric Spitzer, John Pierpont Morgan and Henry Walters.
Private collection, The Netherlands
S. Caroselli, The painted enamels of Limoges, cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 84-91, nos. 5-8; S. Higott, Catalogue of glass and Limoges painted enamels, cat. Wallace Collection, London, 2011, pp.245-248, no. 69.