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Work Medallions from a Coffer

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Medallions and hinges from a secular casket

© 2005 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Muriel Barbier

These medallions belong to a set of eight strap hinges and twelve medallions. Adorned with profane scenes, they were originally part of a small coffer. From Limoges and dating from the 12th century, these medallions attest the important Limousin production of champlevé enamel and the presence of profane iconography during the Romanesque period.

Profane iconography

The quadrilobate medallions in the Louvre are pierced with four holes by which they were fixed. Six of them have figurative decoration, representing a centaur shooting an arrow within a foliated frame, a similarly framed stag wounded by an arrow, and a mounted man-at-arms on a plain blue ground. Three other quatrefoils are adorned with armed men riding lions. The five remaining medallions present stylized floral decoration. The decorative motifs and the shapes of these medallions indicate that they come from a coffer of wood or leather. There exist other works with decoration close to that of the medallions in the Louvre: the Ambazac reliquary and another small coffer conserved at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These secular objects show that in the late 12th century there existed creations commissioned by patrons who appreciated profane subjects.

A Limousin production from the twelfth century

These creations with profane decoration are made of champlevé enamel on gilt copper. The ornamentation of the quatrefoils was executed with a palette that varied deep blue, light blue, light green, and yellow. These colors are characteristic of Limoges enameling, in full force at that time. It was indeed during the last decades of the twelfth century that the Limousin workshops came to the fore as the main suppliers of enameled copper, mentioned in the texts as "opus lemovicum" or "opus lemovicense" (i.e., work of Limoges). The Limousin production that has come down to us is primarily of a religious character: thus the medallions in the Louvre may be counted among the rare Limousin creations of champlevé enamel with profane subjects.


Catalogue d'exposition : "L'Oeuvre de Limoges. Emaux limousins du Moyen Age", Paris, Éditions dela Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995

Catalogue d'exposition : "Les trésors du patrimoine sarthois de l'Antiquité à nos jours", 2 vol., 1980, Connaissance du patrimoine de la Sarthe, Le Mans

Technical description

  • Limoges (c. 1175-85)

    Medallions and hinges from a secular casket

  • Champlevé enamel on gilded copper

  • Gift of the Society of Friends of the Louvre, 1981 , 1981

    OA 10889

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Room 502
    Display case 28

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