Lot 2
  • 2

Master of the Aeneid (active circa 1530-1535) French, Limoges, circa 1530

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Six panels representing scenes from Book VIII of the Aeneid
  • painted enamel on copper with gilt highlights, within a later glazed partially gilt wood frame
  • Master of the Aeneid (active circa 1530-1535) French, Limoges, circa 1530
A: The signal for war given by Turnus from the citadel of Laurentum;
B: The sacrificial feast of Evander before the walls of Pallantium interrupted by the arrival of Aeneas and his fleet; Pallas, son of Evander, challenging Aeneas, who answers from his vessel;
C: Pallas conducts Aeneas from the ship to his father;
D: Evander relating to Aeneas how fauns and wild men once dwelt in the land;
E: Venus making a sign with thunder and the flashing of arms and armour in the heavens to Evander and Pallas with Aeneas and Achates;
F: Evander bidding farewell to Pallas who rides forth with Aeneas and Achates to meet Tarcho and the Etruscans appearing from a grove in the background


Henry George Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland (1846–1918), Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, first recorded there in 1908;
thence by descent.


Northumberland, Alnwick Castle, before 1908 until 2014


Inventory Alnwick Castle, 1908 ("A set of 6 Plaques of Limoges enamel. In one frame.");
B. Rackham, 'Limoges enamels of the Aeneid series at Alnwick Castle', The Burlington magazine for connoisseurs, vol. 38, no. 218, May 1921, pp. 238-245;
S. Baratte, “La Série de Plaques du Maître de L’Énéide”, A. Erlande-Brandenburg, J-M. Leniaud and X. Dectot (eds.), Études d'histoire de l'art offertes à Jacques Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétiens au XXe siècle, Paris, 2001, pp. 146-147, nos. 68, 70-72, 74 and 75

Catalogue Note

Few cycles of Limoges enamels have been as often cited as the extraordinary series of plaques representing Virgil's Aeneid of which the present six are amongst the largest groups remaining in private hands. Made circa 1530, it is the earliest instance in which the technique of painting enamel on copper was used to depict secular scenes. According to the latest count by Baratte (2001, op.cit.), eighty-two plaques from the series survive, making it easily the most numerous suite of Limoges enamels and the only example where a complete set of book illustrations was appropriated. In addition to the six from the collections of the Dukes of Northumberland, the most significant concentrations of enamels from the series in public collections are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (15), the Musée du Louvre (11), and the Walters Art Gallery (7). Many of these passed through the hands of the foremost private collectors of the past 150 years, including Hollingworth Magniac, Frederic Spitzer, Henry Walters, and the Kofler-Trunigers. Their pre-19th-century history and context, however, have been the subject of much speculation.

The Alnwick enamels
Each of the Aeneid enamels is based on illustrations designed by Sebastian Brandt for an influential compilation of Virgil's texts with commentaries published by Johann Grüninger in Strasbourg in 1502 (Figure 1). While these woodcuts are distinctly Gothic, the enamels were painted in the courtly Renaissance style current in France at the time. The figures are idealised and rounded, and imbued with a healthy rose complexion consisting of white over purple enamel. Here and there the white enamel was applied thickly to enliven the surface and lend volume to hands, faces, horses, and the tops of waves, a process known as enlevage. The magnificent greyish-blue seas, covered in wavy black ripples are specific to the series. The translucent ochre and green hues of the landscape and purple hues of castles and clothes, lightened by the ingenious use of foil and the colour of the copper underneath, are equally characteristic. The lush gilding with which the scenes are detailed and heightened was applied after the enamelling was fired and is beautifully preserved in the Alnwick group.

Virgil's Aeneid is at the heart of European literature, and among the most influential epics ever written. Aside from the unprecedented artistry of the verse, much copied themes include the concept of a utopian end of times and the suicide of a sufferer of unrequited love. The Aeneid tells the story of the Trojan prince Aeneas leading a small band of survivors to Italy after the destruction of Troy. Virgil recounts the Trojan Wars, and includes the fullest account of the story of the Trojan Horse, but most importantly he describes how Aeneas and his people settle and ally with the Italians afterwards, becoming the founding fathers of Rome and the Roman Empire.

The Alnwick enamels illustrate Book VIII of the epic. The previous book describes how the Italians of Latium declare war on the Trojans after a failed engagement and a hunting accident. Book VIII starts outside the Latins' citadel Laurentium, where Turnus, a local prince, rallies his allies (plaque A). Aeneas, meanwhile, is asleep on the banks of the Tiber when the river god Tiberinus appears in his dreams. He tells the prince to sail upriver and make an alliance with the Arcadian king Evander. (Victoria and Albert Museum, inv. no. 1604-1855) When Aeneas makes port at Arcadia's stronghold Pallantium, the king and his son Pallas are making a rich offering to their patron Hercules. Pallas challenges the foreigners but Aeneas' clarifies his intentions (B). Pallas leads the Trojans to King Evander (C) who, after relating his lands' mythical history, makes a pact with Aeneas, agrees to lend his troops, and advises Aeneas to enlist the archenemies of the Latins, the Etruscans (D). Venus sees the prospect of wars and commissions special arms and armour from Vulcan (Musée du Louvre, inv. no. OA 7559). During the festivities in honour of Aeneas' visit Venus announces Vulcan has finished a godly armour for Aeneas to wear into battle decorated with scenes from the glorious future of Rome (E; an enamel with the scenes from the future of Rome was with Alain Moatti in 1998 according to Baratte, 2001, op.cit.). Spurred on by the goddess' signal, Aeneas, his faithful right hand Achates, and Pallas, ride out to meet the Etruscans and their leader, Tarcho (F). The story culminates in a succession of skirmishes between The Trojans and Turnus' troops that span the last three books of The Aeneid. The epic ends with the fall of Turnus at the hands of prince Aeneas.

The Aeneid in the Renaissance
The first illustrated versions of The Aeneid appear in late Antiquity. These early manuscripts, such as the Vergilius Vaticanus from circa 400 CE (MS Vat. lat. 3225), tend to include images that show a fairly literal interpretation of the story. (Wlosok, op.cit., p. 379) From the 12th century onwards, however, it becomes customary for specific aspects and themes to be highlighted by the illustrations through the selection, combination, and presentation of individual scenes. This coincides with the appearance of commentaries on Virgil, most importantly by the philosopher Bernard Silvestris, which interpret the text allegorically. Their general reading was that Aeneas' trials and tribulations are synonymous with the contemplation of virtues and values necessary for man to obtain knowledge. (Usher, op.cit., p. 173) Firstly, this provided an opportunity for the effective extraction of Christian values from The Aeneid. This is reflected in the illustrations, for example, by the exchange of mythological monsters with those that haunt biblical stories or by arranging the images so that visions of Heaven and Hell are mirrored. (Wlosok, op.cit., p. 371) But more importantly, and pertinent to the Alnwick enamels, the new interpretations of Virgil paved the way for cycles of illustrations of The Aeneid in architectural settings.

In Book VI, Aeneas and his men arrive in Italy and encounter Apollo's temple, richly decorated with scenes from Trojan history described earlier in the epic. The seafarers contemplate the images before being interrupted by the Sybil who guides Aeneas to his future destiny. As Usher points out, the doubling of the interpretative act - a reader seeing Aeneas and his companions reading these scenes- is placed further in the foreground in commentaries in the first half of the 16th century than any of the versions of Virgil before 1500. (op. cit., pp. 167-168) In the original woodcut published by Grüninger and even more so in the corresponding enamel, formerly in the Keir collection and sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1997 (figure 2), Aeneas seems to be musing about a specific scene from Troy's past. When reviewing the series of enamels in general it becomes clear that there is more attention given to the acts of speaking and discussion even compared to the woodcuts in the Grüninger editions. Whereas in the woodcut none of the sages at the altar table outside the walls of Pallantium gesture as Evander guides Pallas to the citadel, there is more emphasis on the interaction between the figures in enamel C. It seems therefore that the Aeneid enamels were not solely intended as fanciful decoration illustrating moments from a popular tale; the contemporary commentaries which instruct one to join Aeneas on his journey to attain higher knowledge through the contemplation of virtues and values are also reflected in the images. If one assumes that the enamels were presented without text, this invitation to think, rather than just read, becomes even more powerful. Apollo's Temple as illustrated in the Keir enamel is then likely to be an example, of how the Aeneid series were presented, something suggested by Verdier based on the appearance of this plaque alone (op.cit., p. 76), and according to Usher how the series should be experienced. (op.cit., p. 172)

The incorporation of Virgilian themes into the decorative arts became current in Quattrocento Italy and gained momentum in the 16th century. Fresco cycles include Dosso Dossi's murals for the studio of Alfonso d'Este in Ferrara, Giulio Romano's decoration of the Sala di Troia of the ducal palace in Mantua, and Niccolo dell'Abate's large cycle at the castle at Scandiano (see Fagiolo, op.cit. and Langmuir, op.cit.) In France, similar, Homeric illustrations are found at Fontainebleau: scenes from the Iliad adorn the king's chamber and the Odyssey is the theme in the Gallery of Ulysses. The existence of such spaces supports Marquet de Vasselot's widely adopted suggestion that the Aeneid series was set in the wall panelling of a cabinet des emaux, like that recorded in the 1589 inventory of Catherine de' Medici’s effects at the Hôtel de la Reine in Paris. This small room included "thirty-nine small enamel paintings from Limoges, oval in shape, set within the wainscoting of the said cabinet", and "thirty-two portraits some one-foot high of diverse princes, lords and ladies, similarly mounted in the said wainscoting". (Bonnaffé, op.cit., pp. 155-156) Equally, however, the plaques could have been part of one or more cassone. Apollonio di Giovanni (1414-1467) executed panels with scenes from the Aeneid for a marriage chest and was later praised by Ugolino Verino for "[painting] burning Troy better for us". (Usher, op.cit., pp. 171-172). It should not be overlooked that several of the Aeneid enamels are recorded as being set into "a large chasse or coffer, constructed of Limoges enamel plaques in a frame work of gilt metal, 26" long, 9 1/4" wide, 20" high" in the Magniac sale of 1892 (lot 528) and that a record of the entire Aeneid series in one place is conspicuously absent.

The study of the Aeneid enamels
Earlier publications of the Aeneid series chiefly revolve around problems of dating and attribution. The group was first studied on the occasion of the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 where twelve plaques were shown. During the exhibition the playwright and bibliophile Victorien Sardou noticed that the plaques were nigh identical to woodcuts in his copy of a 1529 edition of Opera Virgiliana cum decem commentariis... . A year later, Alfred Darcel, the curator of the enamels in the exhibition, pointed out that Sardou's book is based on a 1502 publication by the printer Johann Grüninger from Strasbourg entitled Publii Virgilii Maronis opera cum quinque vulgatis commentariis... (see Caroselli, 1993, op.cit., p. 77). It is mentioned in the book that the woodcuts were supplied by the prominent humanist and poet Sebastian Brandt (1457-1521), also known for Das Narrenschyff, and that he intended the "bucolic pictures and drawings for uneducated and rustic men" according to the dedication. The tome contains the collected works of Vergil with no less than 215 illustrations, 143 of which are dedicated to The Aeneid.

In 1912 J.J. Marquet de Vasselot pointed out that the blocks Grüninger used for the reproduction of the woodcuts deteriorated as they were employed for the further editions printed in Germany, France and Italy. (quoted in Rackham, op. cit., p. 244) Most books printed after the original 1502 publications therefore have significant lacunae in details such as the banderols of text that identify the characters in each scene. ANCHISES, for example, reads A.C....S in a 1517 edition published in Lyons. The fact that all names are correctly transcribed and the intricately detailed compositions have been successfully rendered in the Aeneid enamels has led Marquet de Vasselot and most scholars after him to the conclusion that the anonymous enameler used the earliest edition. The banderols on the Alnwick enamels, however, have several inconsistencies. In scene B the citadel is named PALANTEUM on the woodcut whilst the enamel says PALANTINA. On plaque C Evander is inexplicably identified as SVANDER whilst it is correct on the woodcut. Also, a 'D' is added to the name of Pallas in place of another symbol or motif on the woodcut. On plaque D Pallantium is not identified at all whilst the woodcut does include a banderol.

The attribution of the Aeneid enamels too was hotly debated by early scholars. Darcel's 1867 Exposition Universelle catalogue mentions Couly Nouailher II and in an article a year later he defends an attribution to Couly Nouailher I. Terrassant was thought to be the maker of the plaques by the cataloguer of the Hamelin sale of 1867, Jean Penicaud II is said to be the author of the series in an 1874 exhibition catalogue in aid of the Alsace and Lorraine and in 1892 Charles Robinson thinks of a young Pierre Reymond in the catalogue of the Magniac sale. (Baratte, 2000, op.cit., p. 56) Wilhelm von Bode's attribution to the school of Jean Penicaud I in the catalogue of the Hainauer sale of 1897 is probably most understandable given the eldest Penicaud's colour schemes, use of gilding as heightening, and inherently Gothic birds-eye view over the compositions. In 1912, however, it was again Marquet de Vasselot who provided the reigning solution: the series is the work of an independent unidentified master active in Limoges he named Le Maître de L'Énéide.

Despite the use of images from a book published in 1502, scholars agree that the Master of the Aeneid was active circa 1530. This is chiefly due to the use of a translucent fondant, which is the enamel that covers the copper on the front and reverse in order to stabilise the object. Translucent fondants are thought to be an innovation that only gained traction after 1520. (Baratte, 2000, op.cit., p. 56) The series also lacks the linearity of German woodcuts made around 1500, having more soft forms according to Renaissance ideals. Lastly, in his cataloguing of the group in the Walters Art Gallery, Verdier points out that the archaic uncials used in the inscriptions on the woodcuts are substituted for a more modern type on the enamels (op.cit., p. 76). After 1530 compositions of Limoges enamels were almost exclusively based on Italian prints.

It is likely that the illustration of The Aeneid in enamel was a project that occupied the master for a substantial part of his career. This is reflected in a change of technique: the first fifteen plaques in the chronology have a sky rendered with help of foil with different shades of blue on top whilst afterwards the foil is no longer used and the horizon is painted with help of a white line. (Baratte, 2000, op.cit., p. 56) Also telling is the absence of any enamels representing the scenes from books ten to twelve of The Aeneid, suggesting that either the enameller or the patron lost interest when the commission was in its final stages. Perhaps this explains why only a few further attributions of other enamels could be made by Verdier and Pinkham (op.cit., p. 76 and op.cit., pp. 370-375). Of those only the Agony in the Garden (inv. no. 2389-1910) and the Crucifixion (inv. no. 2820-1856) in the Victoria and Albert Museum are widely accepted as being by the same hand (see Caroselli, op.cit., p. 73).

E. Bonnaffé, Inventaire des meubles de Catherine de Médices en 1589: Mobilier, tableaux, objets d'art, manuscrits, Paris, 1874; P. Verdier, Catalogue of the painted enamels of the Renaissance, cat. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1967, pp. 75-89; R. Pinkham, “Attributions to the Aeneid Master”, Apollo 95, May 1972, pp. 370-375; E. Langmuir, “Arma Virumque… Nicolò dell’Abate’s Aeneid Gabinetto for Scandiano”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes, 1976, pp.151-170; M. Fagiolo, “Virgilio nell’arte e nella cultura europea”, Roma-Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Rome, 1981, pp. 119–193; S. L. Caroselli, The painted enamels of Limoges. A catalogue of the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 73-79; A. Wlosok, “Illustrated Vergil manuscripts: Reception and exegesis”, The Classical Journal 93, no.4, 1998, pp. 355-382; S. Baratte, Les émaux peints de Limoges, cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2000, pp. 56-62; S. Baratte, “La série de plaques du Maître de L’Énéide”, A. Erlande-Brandenburg, J-M. Leniaud and X. Dectot (eds.), Études d'histoire de l'art offertes à Jacques Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétiens au XXe siècle, Paris, 2001, pp. 133-148; P. J. Usher, “The Aeneid in the 1530’s: Reading with the Limoges enamels”, P. J. Usher and I. Fernbach (eds.), Virgilian identities in the French Renaissance, Martlesham, 2012, pp. 161-188