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Work Casket medallion

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Casket medallion: fantastic bird

© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

This medal dates from the early twelfth century and represents an imaginary animal. It informs us about the technique of champlevé enameling on copper during the Romanesque period. There are nine similar medallions in other museums. They probably all originate from a chest made for the abbé Boniface of Conques (1107-after 1119) and are decorated with hybrid monsters recalling the bestiary, illuminations, and narratives of the period.

A collection of fantastical illustrations

This slightly rounded medallion has four small rings for attaching it. The decoration is perfectly etched within the frame and represents a winged dragon belching forth foliage; the dragon's tail also ends in foliage. It is surrounded by a Greek key-pattern frieze. Some of the motifs are characteristic of Romanesque art and are found as early as the eleventh century on frescoes such as that at Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, for example. Animal themes, which can be observed on many tenth- and eleventh-century illuminations, are typical of western France, as are scenes of combat featuring a dragon. The winged dragon belching forth foliage is one of the most common motifs in Romanesque illuminations from western France.

The technique of champlevé enamel

The decoration, which combines white with two shades of green and three of blue, was executed in champlevé enamel on copper. This technique was developed in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries: grooves cut into the copper plaque are filled with enamel powder, and then it is fired. After firing, the enamel still adhering to the copper is polished.

A thriving artistic center in Aquitaine

This medallion is one of a group of ten divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Bargello Museum in Florence. They most probably originate from one of the chests made for abbé Boniface of Conques. Abbé Boniface had two chests made, both decorated with enamel medallions. One of these is in the Louvre and displays the same type of animal decoration as the Carrand medallions. These medallions are likely to have been made within the artistic community active at the abbey of Conques and supported by the abbé Boniface. Works similar in style to the chest exist, such as the chest of abbé Boniface (still preserved) and the Bellac reliquary, testifying to the developments taking place in the art of enameling in Aquitaine during the Romanesque period, most notably in the Limousin and the Rouergue.

Bibliography

L'Oeuvre de Limoges. Émaux limousins du Moyen Âge, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995.

Gauthier M.-M., François G., Émaux méridionaux : catalogue international de l'oeuvre de Limoges, I, L'Oeuvre romane, Paris, 1987.

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Les royaumes d'Occident, "Les Arts précieux", 1983.

Technical description

  • Conques (between 1107 and 1119)

    Casket medallion: fantastic bird

    Provenance: Treasury of Conques

  • Champlevé enamel on gilded copper

  • Former V. Gay collection; anonymous gift, 1909

    OA 6280

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Suger
    Room 2
    Display case 9

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