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Work Retables from the Sainte Chapelle

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

Retable of the Crucifixion

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

Decorative Arts

Sophie Baratte

The two retables decorated the altars against the rood-screen in the upper chapel, the Sainte Chapelle, in the Palais in Paris, from the 16th century. In February or March 1553, Léonard Limosin was commissioned to produce the two retables on the themes of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The medallions feature portraits of François I, his wife Claude de France, Henri II, and Catherine de' Medici. The angels bearing the instruments of the Passion were based on drawings by Nicolo dell'Abate.

History of the retables

The two retables were most likely installed in time for the Feast of the Assumption in 1553, as the document commissioning them, recently published, indicates. They were removed from the Sainte Chapelle during the Revolution. They ended up in the hands of Alexandre Lenoir who passed them on to the Musée des Monuments Français in rue des Petits-Augustins, Paris, where they were mounted on the pedestal as part of the reconstruction of the tomb of Diane de Poitiers, Henri II's mistress. The two retables were acquired by the Louvre in 1816, when they were put on show in the Apollo Gallery.

The inspiration for the design

In the library of the French national School for the Fine Arts are nine drawings attributed to Nicolo dell'Abate, an Italian artist who was called to Fontainebleau in 1552 to work on the chateau alongside another Italian artist, Francesco Primaticcio. The drawings still bear the tiny holes where the design was pricked through onto another medium, in this case enamelled copper. These drawings are a clue to the close links between Léonard Limosin and the Fontainebleau School. The commission for the retables notes that the Crucifixion and Resurrection, along with the royal portraits and the medallions illustrating the Passion, are to be based on drawings by Léonard Limosin. As well as the drawings of the eight angels, the medallion of the prayer in the Garden of Olives is also attributed to Nicolo dell'Abate.

The technique

Léonard Limosin used small strips of silver coated with translucent enamel for some items of clothing. The coloured enamels are placed on an underlying layer of white. On the strips around the Crucifixion scene are drawings in gold monochrome on a blue or black ground. This retable bears the insignia of François I, while the retable featuring the Resurrection is decorated with the insignia of his son Henri II.


Baratte Sophie, Léonard Limosin au musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1993.

Technical description

  • Léonard LIMOSIN

    Retable of the Crucifixion



  • Painted enamel on copper

    H. 1.06 m; W. 0.74 m

  • Provenance: Sainte-Chapelle of Paris

    MR 208 1

  • Decorative Arts

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