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Ornamental Metalwork of the Renaissance

To dwell in detail upon the merits and particular works of artists, such as Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Orazio Fontana, and Francesco Xanto of Rovigo, would be beyond the scope of this notice, and is the less necessary as Mr. Robinson, in his Catalogue of the Soulages Collection, has so recently thrown out some new and highly interesting speculations upon various difficult questions connected with the subject.

Ornaments from Pottery at Louvre and Hotel Cluny
Ornaments from Pottery at Louvre and Hotel Cluny, Plate LXXIX.

Neither will it be desirable here to do more than point out the interesting modification of ceramic design and practice carried out in France through the indomitable perseverance of Bernard de Palissy, master-potter to Francis I. In Plate LXXIX. Figs. 1 and 3, we have engraved several specimens of the decorations of his elegant ware, which occupy as to design, in reference to other monuments of the French Renaissance, much the same position that the design of the early majolica does to the monuments of the Italian revival.

Although that style began to make its appearance in the works of the French jewellers in the reign of Louis XII., when the extensive patronage of the powerful Cardinal d'Amboise gave considerable impetus to the art, it was under Francis I., who invited to his Court the great master of the Renaissance, Cellini, that the jeweller's art reached its highest perfection. To rightly appreciate, however, the precise condition and nature of the precious metalwork, it is necessary to pass in rapid review the leading characteristics of the admirable school of enamellers, whose productions in the fifteenth century, and much more in the sixteenth, served to disseminate far and wide some of the most elegant ornaments which have ever been applied to metalwork.

Enamels from the Louvre and Hotel Cluny
Enamels from the Louvre and Hotel Cluny, Plate LXXVII.

About the end of the fourteenth century, the artists of Limoges found not only that the old champleve enamels, of which, in Plate LXXVII., Figs. 1, 3, 4, 8, 29, 40, 41, 50, 53, 57, 61, we have given, for the sake of contrast, numerous examples, had entirely gone out of fashion, but that almost every goldsmith either imported the translucid enamels from Italy, or executed them himself with more or less skill, according to his talents. In this state of things, instead of attempting competition, they invented a new manufacture, the processes of which belonged solely to the enameller, and enabled him to dispense entirely with the burin of the goldsmith. The first attempts were exceedingly rude, and very few of them now remain; but that the art progressed slowly is evident from the fact, that it is not until the middle of the fifteenth century that specimens are to be found in any quantity, or possessing any degree of merit.

Lower portion showing the springing of scroll-work of a small Pilaster, by the Lombardi, in the Church of St.Maria dei Miracoli, Venice.

The process was this: The design was traced with a sharp point upon an unpolished plate of copper, which was then covered with a thin coat of transparent enamel. The artist, after going over his tracing with a thick black line, filled in the intervals with the various colors, which were, for the most part, transparent, the black lines performing the office of the gold strips of the cloisonn6 work. The carnations presented the greatest difficulty, and were, first of all, covered over with the black color, and the high lights and half-tints were then modelled upon that with opaque white, which occasionally received a few touches of light transparent red. The last operation was to apply the gilding, and to affix the imitations of precious stones, - almost the last trace of the Byzantine school, which had formerly exercised so much influence in Aquitaine.

The appearance of the finished works was very similar to that of a large and coarse translucid enamel, a resemblance not unlikely to have been intentional, more especially as specimens of the latter were never made of any considerable size, and were therefore fit to supply the place of ivory in the construction of those small triptychs which were so necessary an appendage to the chambers and oratories of the rich in the middle ages. Accordingly, we find nearly all the early painted enamels are either in the form of triptychs or diptychs, or have originally formed parts of them; and a great number preserve their original brass frames, and are supposed by antiquaries to have been produced in the atelier of Monvearni, as the name or initials of that master are generally found upon them. As to the other artists, they followed, unfortunately, the but too common practice of most of the workmen of the middle ages, and, with the exceptions of Monvearni and P. E. Nicholat, or, as the inscriptions have been more correctly read, Penicaud, their names are buried in oblivion.

At the commencement of the sixteenth century the Renaissance had made great progress; and among other changes, a great taste for paintings in "camaieu", or "grisaille", had sprung up. The ateliers of Limoges at once adopted the new fashion, and what may be called the second series of painted enamels was the result.

The process was very nearly the same as that employed with regard to the carnations of the earlier specimens, and consisted in, firstly, covering the whole plate of copper over with a black enamel, and then modelling the lights and half-tints with opaque white; those parts requiring to be colored, such as the faces and the foliage, receiving glazes of their appropriate tints-touches of gold are almost always used to complete the picture; and occasionally, when more than ordinary brilliancy was wanted, a thin gold or silver leaf, called a "pallion", was applied upon the black ground, and the glaze afterwards superposed.

All these processes are to be seen in the two pictures of Francis I. and Henry II., executed by Leonard Limousin, for the decoration of the Sainte Chapelle, but which have now been removed to the Museum of the Louvre. Limoges, indeed, owed no small debt of gratitude to the former monarch, who not only established a manufactory in the town, but made its director, Leonard, "peintre, emailleur, valet-de-chambre du Roi", giving him, at the same time, the appellation of "le Limousin", to distinguish him from the other and still more famous Leonardo da Vinci.

And, indeed, the Limousin was no mean artist, whether we regard his copies of the early German and Italian masters, or the original portraits of the more celebrated of his contemporaries, such as those of the Duke of Guise, the Constable Montmorency, Catherine de Medicis, and many others executed, we must remember, in the most difficult material which has ever yet been employed for the purposes of art.

The works of Leonardo extend from 1532 to 1574, and contemporaneously with him flourished a large school of artist-enamellers, many of whose works quite equalled, if they did not surpass, his own. Among them we may mention Pierre Raymond and the families of the Penicauds, and the Courteys, Jean and Susanna Court, and M. D. Pape. The eldest of the family of the Courteys, Pierre, was not only a good artist, but has the reputation of having made the largest-sized enamels which have ever been executed (nine of these are preserved in the Museum of the Hotel de Cluny-the other three, M. Labarte informs us, are in England) for decorating the facade of the Chateau de Madrid, upon which building large sums were lavished by Francis I. and Henry II.

We should observe that this last phase of Limoges enamelling was not confined, like its predecessor, to sacred subjects; but, on the contrary, the most distinguished artists did not disdain to design vases, caskets, basins, ewers, cups, salvers, and a variety of other articles of every-day life, which were afterwards entirely covered with the black enamel, and then decorated with medallions, etc, in the opaque white. At the commencement of the new manufacture, the subjects of most of the enamels were furnished from the prints of the German artists, such as Martin Schoen, Israel van Mecken, etc. These were afterwards supplanted by those of Marc' Antonio Raimondi and other Italians, which, in their turn, gave way about the middle of the sixteenth century to the works of Virgilius Solis, Theodore de Bry, Etienne de l'Aulne, and others of the petits-mettres.

The production of the painted enamels was carried on with great activity at Limoges, during the whole of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and far into the eighteenth, when it finally expired. The last artists were the families of the Nouaillers and Laudins, whose best works are remarkable for the absence of the paillons, and a somewhat undecided style of drawing.

In conclusion, it remains for us only to invite the student to cultivate the beauties, as sedulously as he should eschew the extravagancies, of the Renaissance style. Where great liberty is afforded in Art no less than in Polity, great responsibility is incurred. In those styles in which the imagination of the designer can be checked only from within, he is especially bound to set a rein upon his fancy. Ornament let him have in abundance; but in its composition let him be modest and decorous, avoiding over-finery as he would nakedness. If he has no story to tell, let him be content with fioriated forms and conventional elements in his enrichments, which please the eye without making any serious call upon the intellect; then, where he really wishes to arrest observation by the comparatively direct representation of material objects, he may be the more sure of attaining his purpose. In a style which, like the Renaissance, allows of, and indeed demands, the association of the Sister Arts, let the artist never lose sight of the unities and specialties of each. Keep them as a well-ordered family, on the closest and most harmonious relations, but never permit one to assume the prerogatives of another, or even to issue from its own, to invade its Sister's province. So ordered and maintained, those styles are noblest, richest, and best adapted to the complicated requirements of a highly artificial social system, in which, as in that of the Renaissance, Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, and the highest technical excellence in Industry, must unite before its essential and indispensable conditions of effect can be efficiently realised.

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