Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages
© 2000 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola
The origin and scale of this Christ in enameled copper make it an important piece of Limoges work. It is very likely to have come from a cross that belonged to the Abbey of Grandmont (Haute-Vienne), an important client of the Limoges workshops. Made around 1220-30, this Christ, similar in style and technique to the figures of the apostles made for the high altar of the abbey, reveals the earliest Gothic influences on Limoges, in the first decades of the thirteenth century.
The Abbey of Grandmont
The Abbey of Grandmont, near Limoges, was founded by Etienne de Muret (d. 1124). The church, almost complete in 1166, received, at different periods, a large number of works in champlevé enamel on copper, and the abbey had a great influence on the development of "Limoges work" (opus lemovicense). Around 1190 a large altar was commissioned, whose decoration evoked the life of Etienne de Muret. The years around 1220-25 saw the building of the high altar with the twelve apostles. Even after the Revolution, Grandmont still possessed the "great cross of the altar of the hour of prime," decorated in Limoges enamel. This cross was described by the friar Pardoux de la Garde at the close of the sixteenth century, and then in 1790 by the abbot Legros, who noted that the cross was 2.70 meters high, with a crowned Christ.
A monumental Christ
The size of the Louvre Christ corresponds to the considerable height of the cross. The embossed figure has a strongly sculptural quality, which it shares with the Grandmont apostles, of which two are in the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris and another is in the Louvre. A shell of copper soldered to the reverse of the head of the Christ gives it the volume of a sculpture in the round. Besides the Christ, the cross seems to have had two other figures and an inscription. One of these figures is probably the so-called Deacon, slightly smaller than the Christ, at the church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist at Les Billanges (Haute-Vienne). At the time of the Revolution, the copper casing of the cross was bought by a Limoges metal-founder called Coutaud.
A work characteristic of early Gothic art in the Limousin
The figure of Christ is formed by deep embossing of the copper. The body is supple in its modeling, slightly bent, and draped in a flowing loincloth. The face is composed, the eyes enlivened by little drops of enamel. The locks of the hair and beard have been brought out with fine engraved lines; the quality of the engraved detail is another feature this work has in common with the apostles of the Grandmont high altar. The face breaks with Romanesque tradition, showing greater interest in expression and human reality. The work was made at a time when the artists of Limoges were just beginning to produce fine, gently curving folds in drapery, and expressive faces, both grave and serene. These innovations reflect the impact on the Limoges workshops of the ideas of early Gothic art. The Louvre Christ is one of the most beautiful examples of early thirteenth-century art in Limoges.
BibliographyCatalogue. Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Objets d'art 1995-2002, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 2003, pp. 34-36.
Taburet-Delahaye Elisabeth, "Un Christ de l'abbaye de Grandmont, oeuvre de Limoges du XIIIe siècle", in Revue du Louvre, 2000, n 3, pp. 16-18.
Taburet-Delahaye Elisabeth, "Un Christ du début du XIIIe siècle et trois Apôtres de Grandmont", in L'Objet d'art de la Saison, n 15.
Limoges (c. 1220-30)
Repoussé copper, engraved, champlevé, enamelled, and gilded; cabochons and glass beads
H. 35.60 cm; W. 25.80 cm
Gift of the Society of Friends of the Louvre, 2000 , 2000
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