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Work Tableau of the Trinity

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

"Tableau de la Trinité"

© 2003 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Balandre Isabelle

This gold plate is precisely the type of gem that royalty purchased for New Year's Day presents or for great occasions. It depicts themes dear to the Valois - the Trinity and the Pietà. An example of the brilliant work of Parisian goldsmiths around 1400, it brings together several techniques, including enamel on gold ronde-bosse (relief work), enriched with precious stones and pearls. In the sixteenth century, it entered the treasury of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit, founded by Henri III in 1578.

A complex iconography

In a four-storey, Gothic-style construction are niches containing statuettes. Although parts are missing, the Trinity can be identified in the center, with God the Father holding the Cross in his hands; a dove must have topped this part. Above, the Virgin Mary probably held the body of Christ, now missing. The work is surmounted by a small figure of Christ triumphant (Salvatore Mundi), holding a banner and a globe symbolizing victory over death. The combination of these three scenes was new for the period.
The other niches contain saints and apostles identifiable by their various attributes, amongst whom St. Peter (keys), St. Paul (a sword), St. Bartholomew (a knife), St. Catherine (a wheel), St. Barbara (a tower), St. Thomas (a spear), and St. Elisabeth of Hungary (a crown).

A wealth of refined techniques

The clothes of the figures are overlaid with white enamel highlighted with translucent red and green enamel. The gold ronde-bosse enameling is a new technique, first used by Parisian goldsmiths in the mid-fourteenth century.
According to a 1420 inventory, there were further precious stones and pearls: seventeen sapphires, eleven rubies, and seventy pearls.
The pearls are mounted in clusters, and the sapphires and spinel rubies are set in truncated bezels with claws. The accumulation effect and the great variety of colors are characteristic of this type of piece.
Although the modeling of the drapery is thickened by the layer of milky white enamel and loses subtlety, the architectural décor, with the finesse of the gables, pinnacles, and canopies, gives the whole an elegant appearance.

A royal commission

The work was sent by Jeanne de Navarre, Queen of England, to her son Jean V, Duke of Brittany, around 1412. The precious stones include a sapphire with an intaglio portrait of a woman who curiously resembles the queen. The tableau was part of the dowry of Anne of Brittany and, after her marriage to Charles VIII, joined the royal treasury. It was one of the items removed by Henri III to form the treasury of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit when this was founded in 1578. The arms of the king can be seen on an oval medallion added to the base.
Although parallels can be drawn with English art, the whole is clearly in the Parisian style of the 1400s. The many exchanges of gifts between the European courts justify the term "international Gothic".

Bibliography

Les Fastes du Gothiques, Le siècle de Charles V, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1981, pp. 262

Technical description

  • Angleterre ? (avant 1412)

    "Tableau de la Trinité"

    Provient du trésor de l'Ordre du Saint-Esprit

  • Or, émaux sur ronde-bosse d'or, pierreries

    H. : 44,50 cm. ; L. : 15 cm.

  • MR 552

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Scepter of Charles V
    Room 504
    Vitrine 5

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