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Plaque : Centaure

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Thierry Ollivier

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Barbier Muriel

One of the two plaques in the Louvre represents a centaur, and the other a warrior fighting a dragon. They are today identified as part of a group of twelve plaques, which were either fixed on a cross, an altarpiece or an antependium. Made of champlevé enamel on copper, they exemplify the flowering of this technique in the Valley of the Meuse under the patronage of Abbot Wibald of Stavelot (1130-1158).

Complex iconography

The plaques, bordered with a milled edge and perforated with twelve fixation holes, are illustrated with characters who, when taken out of context, seem inspired by profane themes. One of the Louvre plaques bears the figure of a man armed with a sword and shield, fighting a dragon - a possible allegory of the triumph of good over evil - the other shows a centaur with bow and arrow followed by a dog - an image that may be interpreted either as the last sign in the Zodiac or as personifying heresy and evil. Of note here is the conjunction of figures drawn both from the two Testaments and from a fantastic bestiary. It is possible that these illustrations are allegories of Vices and Virtues, but the mystery remains.

The patronage of Abbot Wibald of Stavelot

The two plaques in the Louvre are similar to three other pieces held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. All five are attributed to workshops active in the Valley of the Meuse and assimilated with works produced under the patronage of Abbot Wibald of Stavelot (1130-1158). There are twelve other extant plaques that were part of the same piece, an object that has unfortunately not been identified. Wibald of Stavelot was a major patron of goldsmiths in the region of the Meuse during the 12th century. He commissioned important pieces adorned with champlevé enamels on copper. Put together, the plaques in the Louvre and, in London, at the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum form a group representative of the vitality of the Meuse Valley as an artistic seat in the 12th century. Works of great originality, these objects stand out as well for the presence of tints such as brown (rare in the enameling of the region), the life-like aspects of the animals represented, whether real or not, and the gracefulness of the movements depicted.

Bibliography

Gauthier Marie-Madeleine, Émaux du Moyen ge occidental, Fribourg, 1972, pp. 132-133 et p. 349.

Stratford N., Catalog of Medieval Enamels in the British Museum, volume II, Northern Romanesque Enamel, Londres, 1993.

Technical description

  • Vallée de la Meuse (vers 1160 - 1170)

    Plaque : Centaure

  • Email champlevé sur cuivre doré

    H. 10 cm; W. 10 cm

  • Ancienne collection Magniac ; don V. Martin le Roy, 1914 , 1914

    Plaque: CentaurPlaque: Warrior Fighting a Dragon

    OA 8097

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Suger
    Room 502
    Vitrine 7

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