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Plaque: François de Lorraine, Duc de Guise (1520-63)

© 1992 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts
Renaissance

Author(s):
Baratte Sophie

This signed and dated portrait of an influential figure at the court of Henri II (king of France from 1547-59) is the work of a Limoges enamel painter summoned into royal service by Henri's predecessor François I (who reigned from 1515-47). Catherine de' Medici owned a series of similar enamel portraits. The artist's mastery of enamel painting is shown in his subtle rendering of the figure's fine clothing, piercing blue eyes, distinctive long nose, and a faint battle scar on one cheek.

François de Guise

François, known as "Le Balafré" ("Scarface"), was the second duke of Guise (1520-63) and a noted military man. Wounded in the Battle of Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1545, he was tended by the great French anatomist Ambroise Paré. He conquered and defended Metz from Charles V, and recaptured Calais from the English in 1558. A prominent Catholic figure during the Wars of Religion, he was killed during the siege of Orléans in 1563 by a Protestant nobleman, Poltrot de Méré. He was the son of Claude de Guise (1496-1550) and Antoinette de Bourbon (1493-1583), whose rectangular enamel portraits are now in the Musée Nationale de la Renaissance at Écouen. François's son, Henri de Guise (1550-88) was wounded at the Battle of Dormans in 1575, earning him his father's nickname. A leader of the Catholic League, he was assassinated in Blois on the orders of Henri III, in 1588. Léonard Limosin's large oval portrait of Henri's brother, Charles, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The Guise family commissioned numerous works of art in a variety of media: enamel painting (Eucharist plaque, Frick Collection, New York), architecture (the castle at Joinville in the French department of Haute-Marne) and sculpture (including funerary statues in the Louvre collection).

The portrait

This large plaque, dated 1557, was re-discovered in 1810 in the palace of Versailles. It is not clear whether it was once part of a royal collection (perhaps that of Catherine de' Medici), or confiscated during the Revolution. Its dimensions are also those of a series of large oval portraits listed in the inventory of Catherine's possessions, apparently intended to adorn the paneling of her cabinet (a small room designed for the display and contemplation of favored objects.) Another portrait in the series, that of the High Constable Anne de Montmorency, has survived intact with its original, elaborately decorative frame. Most of the portraits by Léonard Limosin have a blue background. In this work, the Duke of Guise wears a white, slashed doublet and the pendant of the French Order of St Michael, founded by Louis XIV as a counterpart to the Orders of the Garter and the Golden Fleece. The Duke wears a black cap adorned with a black feather, and a fur-lined cape of the same color across his shoulders. The counter-enameling on the back of the plaque is of transparent glass, while the flux is marbled with green, white and pink.

Technical description

  • Léonard LIMOSIN

    Plaque: François de Lorraine, Duc de Guise (1520-63)

    1557

    Limoges

  • Painted enamel on copper

    H. 46.40 cm; W. 31.20 cm

  • Former collection

    N 1255

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Léonard Limosin
    Room 21
    Display case 2

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