Lot 3
  • 3

Attributed to Léonard Limosin (circa 1505-1575) French, Limoges, circa 1530-1540

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Roundel with a portrait of a noblewoman, probably Louise of Savoy, or Marguerite of Angoulème, Queen of Navarre, and with the Adoration of the Virgin and Child on the reverse
  • partially gilt painted enamel on copper
  • Attributed to Léonard Limosin (circa 1505-1575) French, Limoges, circa 1530-1540


Ian Campbell, 12th Duke of Argyll, Marquess of Lorne;
his sale, The Property of a Nobleman, Christie's London, 7 October 1970, lot 122;
private collection, United Kingdom


R. Pinkham, 'Attributions to the Master MP and Master IVL', in Apollo CVIII, no. 201, November 1978, pp. 333-334, figs. 4 and 5;
T. Crépin-Leblond and M. Barbier (eds.), Une reine sans couronne? Louise de Savoie, mère de François Ier, exh. cat. Musée national de la Renaissance, château d’Écouen, Paris, 2015, p. 124


The enamel is very fine and remarkably well preserved given its age. Overall the condition of the roundel is good, with minor wear and dirt to the surface consistent with age. There are minor losses to the enamel around the edge of the obverse, with a more notable area of loss to the bottom of and below the wimple on the woman's proper left side. There are also minor losses to the enamel around the edge of the reverse, with three more notable areas of loss to the border on the lower half. There is minor stable hairline splitting to the enamel consistent with the material, in particular to the reverse, where the metal has caused more tension to the enamel. There are a few very minor nicks and scratches to the surface of the enamel. The gilding on the border on the obverse and on the border and figures on the reverse has partially rubbed. There is some minor warping to the metal.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This delicate enamelled roundel, finely painted on both sides, is an enigmatic treasure. Depicting the bust of a lady in the mourning dress of Renaissance France, it relates closely to four other roundels, which appear to show the same, or a related, sitter on the obverse. Various identifications have been proposed for the woman, or women, portrayed, of whom all are prominent members of the French court. Arguably the most convincing identifications have been Louise of Savoy, mother of King Francis I, and her daughter, Marguerite of Angoulème, Queen of Navarre. The enamel is remarkable not only for the finely executed portrait, but for the beautiful scene with the Virgin and Child in blue hues depicted on the reverse. Its extraordinary quality, and the life dates of its possible sitters, suggest an origin in one of the most accomplished workshops active in Limoges around 1540, most likely that of the court enameller, Léonard Limosin.

An intriguing series

The enamel plaque is of slightly convex circular shape. Its obverse depicts the bust of a woman facing slightly to the right, clad in the dueil blanc (white mourning veil), which comprises a coif covering the forehead and eyebrows, with a heart-shaped border above the forehead, and a chest covering that is pleated at the centre. The portrait is painted on a black background with a regularly looped blue border. On the reverse, in counter-enamel, two women wearing a similar veil are seen kneeling with a rosary in front of the enthroned Virgin and Child, who are surrounded by two trumpet-playing winged angels. Behind the throne are three more figures, and the scene is set against an architectural background with high columns and a vaulted ceiling; all except the kneeling women is tinted in various shades of blue. The white border of the reverse is inscribed in black letters with a Latin prayer to the Virgin, which appears in medieval books of hours. Some wear around the rim suggests that it was probably once set within a frame.

Three other known enamelled medallions, all of a similar size and facture, appear to depict the same portrait, though each is painted with a different religious subject on the reverse. The version closest to the present enamel was sold as lot 9 in the Cyril Humphris sale at Sotheby’s New York on 10 January 1995, there attributed to Jean II Penicaud. Equally circular in shape, the medallion is only marginally larger than the present version, and the portrait almost identical. The border also consists of a blue band motif, though its shape is here not looped but a repetition of the Savoy knot. The polychrome reverse depicts Saint Margaret sitting on a dragon against an architectural background. It is likely that this enamel is the same as one illustrated in the 19th-century archive at Blythe House, which was formerly in the Necessidades Palace in Lisbon and shown at the Great Exhibition of Ornamental Arts in 1882. An oval version of slightly smaller dimensions, set in a later frame, is preserved in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (inv. no. 44.504, fig. 1). This differs from the previously mentioned not only in shape, but in the inclusion of the shaft of a crucifix that cuts across the woman’s wimple. Moreover, it varies in its translucent blue border with gilt stars around the portrait, while its reverse bears a gold camaieu scene with Saint Anne and the Virgin and Child after a design by Marcantonio Raimondi. The Baltimore enamel, too, has been attributed to Jean II Pénicaud (Verdier, op. cit.). The third example is another oval version, in an elaborate associated frame, which was formerly in the Kofler-Truniger collection in Lucerne and given to Léonard Limosin (Schnitzler, op. cit.). Only its obverse was illustrated in the catalogues, showing the identical portrait though arguably of inferior quality, with a thin gilt border. The reverse was described as depicting a scene from the legend of Saint Margaret in which the saint kneels under a colonnade adoring the Virgin and Child, who are being held aloft by winged angels – seemingly a variant of the scene on the reverse of the present plaque.

A closely comparable medallion housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 7912-1862, figs. 2 and 5) adds to the intrigue provided by the series. Owned before 1842 by the prominent collector, Horace Walpole, this enamel is again smaller than the present version and of near-oval shape, set in a gilt metal frame. Although strikingly similar in style and appearance to the other examples, the portrait on the obverse shows a woman with slightly different features and a variation in the veil – here the eyebrows are exposed, and the top section of the coif is doubled. The border around the portrait is again different; while of a similar blue as in the present enamel, it consists of interlocking knotted S-scrolls. The reverse is painted in gold with Moses receiving the tablets of the law, which are inscribed in French.

Questions of Identification

The debate concerning the identification of the portraits centres upon ladies of the French court who were portrayed in mourning attire during the second quarter of the 16th century. Seemingly worn not only by widows but as an almost fashionable statement of grief and piety in general, the deuil blanc appears frequently in portraiture from this time. Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy (1480-1530) was portrayed by Bernard van Orley as a widow in a veil almost identical to those in the enamels, one which is also seen in a Limoges painted enamel portrait of Marie of Luxembourg, Countess of Vendome (d.1547). Although both women are connected to the House of Savoy, their features do not show sufficient similarity with the ladies portrayed in the enamels to justify an identification. Despite this, both have been proposed in the scholarship as possible sitters; the other identifications being Louise of Savoy (1476-1531), her daughter Marguerite of Angoulème (1492-1549), and Guillemette de Sarrebruck (d.1471), all of whom were portrayed at some stage in their lives wearing the deuil blanc or a similar costume. Although a drawing of Guillemette by Jean Clouet from circa 1537 depicts the woman in a veil identical to that in the V&A enamel, an identification with this lady-in-waiting is unconvincing, not only because of her more prominent nose, but her lack of a connection with the House of Savoy and comparatively low status. A series of elaborately enamelled miniature portraits would have been a costly commission, no doubt a privilege afforded only to immediate members of the royal family.

A theory proposed recently by Thierry Crépin-Leblond identifies each portrait with a different woman and suggests that the commission for the medallions may have commemorated the Paix des Dames of 1529, negotiated in Cambrai by Louise of Savoy, her daughter Marguerite, Margaret of Austria, and Marie of Luxembourg (Crépin-Leblond, op. cit., p. 124). The resulting treaty was of historical significance in affecting peace between the King of France, Francis I, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. While a connection with this event is a fascinating suggestion, it is difficult to find such numerous individual features in the largely identical portraits on the surviving medallions. Moreover, the differences in scale, shape, and decoration such as the borders, indicate that the medallions were not produced as part of the same series. Although it is possible that each surviving medallion belonged to a separate series commemorating these four women, it would seem a remarkable coincidence that four of the five versions appear to portray the same woman.

The most compelling identifications for the medallions remain Louise of Savoy, the King's mother, and her daughter, Marguerite of Angoulème. This may be argued not only because of the similarity of their features, and their association with the Savoy knot that appears in at least one of the medallions, but their high status in the French court, which would have supported such a costly, repeated commission. The features of both the woman in the V&A medallion and that portrayed in the present example are strikingly close to several portraits of Louise of Savoy by and after Jean Clouet from the first half of the 16th century (see Crépin-Leblond, op. cit., pp. 22, 23, and 110-111). While both enamel portraits are partially idealised, such as in the small, doll-like lips, Louise’s full face and straight nose in the drawn portraits resemble both, indicating the possibility that the V&A medallion may in fact portray the same woman as the other examples. However though Louise is portrayed in the drawings wearing a similar headdress, often with a cloth covering her forehead and eyebrows, the outer section of her veil is usually black (see fig. 3). The theory that the lady in the present medallion represents Marguerite of Angoulème is based on a drawing by Clouet, now in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, which depicts the Queen of Navarre in a white mourning veil, though with her eyebrows left uncovered (Mellen, op. cit., fig. 149, cat. no. 124, and here fig. 4). Marguerite was not widowed, but there may have been a separate reason for her attire, such as the death of a family member. It is perhaps the long nose exhibited by both Marguerite and the lady on the present enamel, combined with a family resemblance to Louise of Savoy, that makes this identification particularly plausible. Moreover, it has been suggested that the presence of Saint Margaret on one of the versions with this portrait indicates that the sitter’s name may have been Marguerite.

Several possible scenarios follow from these observations. The first is that all the surviving medallions depict Louise of Savoy and were commissioned by the King’s mother herself, perhaps as devotional gifts to those close to her. The second is that they are posthumous portraits of Louise –more likely, given the probable date of manufacture in the 1530s – and commissioned by the King, or Marguerite of Angoulème, to commemorate their mother. A third possibility is that the V&A portrait depicts Louise of Savoy, and the others Marguerite of Angoulème. The mourning dress, and the devotional nature of the paintings on the reverse, suggest that perhaps each medallion was made to mark the death of a family member and considered a token of the woman’s grief and piety. Each example may have been produced some time after another, for a different recipient, which would account for the subtle differences in size, decoration, and drawing style. Does Saint Margaret praying on top of the Dragon symbolise Marguerite of Angoulème’s own devotion? Could the two women kneeling in front of the Virgin in the present enamel represent Louise of Savoy and Marguerite as mother and daughter? Both women were powerful female figures in their time, their direct involvement in the Ladies’ Peace attesting to their influence in political matters at the utmost level.  Marguerite in particular was celebrated as a visionary Renaissance woman who, despite her Catholicism, fought against the persecution of Calvinists during the Reformation. If indeed the commission for the medallions came from Marguerite, they would provide a fascinating insight into the life and thought of this exceptional woman.

The Maker

Left tantalisingly unsigned, the roundels have inspired varying attributions in the scholarship. It is unusual for enamelled works of such accomplished artistry to be left without a monogram or signature, emphasising perhaps the private nature of the commission. Enamelled miniature roundels that are painted on both sides were technically challenging objects and rarely produced. As outlined above, most published attributions of the roundels have focused on the two most highly skilled enamel painters of their time, Jean II Pénicaud (fl. 1534-1549) and Léonard Limosin (c.1505-c.1576). An attribution to Jean II Pénicaud, perhaps the most prominent member of the Pénicaud family of enamellers, who perfected the grisaille technique, may be supported by the existence of a small double-sided roundel attributed to Pénicaud in Lyon (Musée des Beaux-Arts). Depicting a battle scene and the goddess Minerva, it mirrors the high quality of the present roundel and some of the other versions. Pénicaud used the same iconographic source as the reverse of the Baltimore roundel in a plaque at the Louvre (inv. no. MV 496), while another of his attributed works, a plaque with the Nativity and a background of columns and arches, recalls the scene on the reverse of the present enamel. However, Pénicaud’s figural style is on the whole more classical, and his few known portraits lack the soft, naturalistic detail observed in the group of medallions. Roger Pinkham’s 1978 attribution of the present enamel to the elusive ‘Master MP’ (op. cit.), who was formerly associated with the Pénicaud family, finds little credence in the light of more recent, inconclusive, research on the MP monogram (see Baratte, op. cit., p. 127).

First-hand comparison between the present roundel and that at the V&A has revealed, despite subtle differences in the drawing, the likelihood that the two originate from the same workshop, if not from the same hand. Most recently, the roundel at the V&A has been attributed to Léonard Limosin, whose likely authorship forms the more compelling case. Thought to have trained in the Pénicaud workshop, Limosin was called to the French court in the mid-1530s, and thereafter divided his time between Fontainebleau and Limoges, producing highly accomplished enamels for his royal patrons. Limosin was particularly known for his portraits, to which the present roundels and its variants compare well. The precise drawing of contours, particularly the upper eyelid, and the subtle differentiation of flesh tones and shadows exhibited by the present portrait are seen in some of Limosin’s portrait plaques at the Louvre, such as those of Cardinal Jean Bertrand (inv. no. MR R 282), the future Francis II (inv. no. N 1253), as well as the portrait of Henri d’Albret, King of Navarre, in the Wallace Collection (inv. no. C585).

The hand of a highly talented artist such as Limosin may also be observed in the beautiful painting on the reverse of the present medallion. The skill and imagination of the enameller was such that he was able to capture the light emanating from the window in the differentiated shades of blue applied to the dreamlike scene. A similar impressionistic effect with an architectural background is seen in works by Limosin, such as in the blue and white column held by an Angel in the Crucifixion Retable from Sainte Chapelle (Musée du Louvre, inv. no. MR XIII), and a grisaille plaque showing Ceres and Psyche in front of a Greek temple (Louvre, inv. no. R 282). It may also be noted that Limosin frequently used a rich blue colour in the background of his portraits, notably that of Henri II in Braunschweig (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, inv. no. Lim 45). Crépin-Leblond’s attribution of the V&A enamel to Léonard Limosin (Crépin-Leblond, op. cit., p. 124) is based partly on a double-sided portrait medallion signed by the artist at the British Museum, which is dated 1539 (inv. no. 1885,0508.15). Showing a posthumous profile portrait of the dauphin François in grisaille with a blue background on the obverse, and a portrait of his father, the King, in gold camaieu on the reverse, it compares closely with the roundel at the V&A, as well as the present example. We are here presented with evidence that Limosin produced the same type of double-sided portrait medallion, and that such a commission is likely to have come from King Francis I himself. This would support the supposition that the portrait on the present roundel depicts an immediate family member of the King and was executed by Limosin. It also provides a likely date of creation for the group of roundels during the enameller’s early career in the later 1530s.


An intricately produced objet d’art of exquisite quality, the medallion would have been suited to being kept in a private drawer, or as part of an intimate display of valuables, serving as a memento of the portrait’s sitter. Crépin-Leblond records several entries in royal inventories from the mid-16th century that list painted enamel portrait medallions, including – compellingly – one of Louise of Savoy, ‘mere du Roy, esmail de Lymoges, enchassée on or’ (as quoted in Crépin-Leblond, op. cit., p. 124). While the precise commission and relationship with the other versions remains unclear, a convincing case has been made for the present roundel’s direct relation to the French royal family, as well as the likely identity of the woman portrayed – either the King’s mother, or his sister. Its return to the market after more than forty-five years will no doubt inspire further research and debate, bringing closer the tantalising possibility of resolving the intrigue surrounding this precious enamel.

H. Schnitzler et al., Email, Goldschmiede- und Metallarbeiten, Sammlung E. und M. Kofler-Truniger Luzern, Band II, Lucerne and Stuttgart, 1965, p. 42, no. E 123 and pl. 67; P. Verdier, Catalogue of the Painted Enamels of the Renaissance, cat. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1967, pp. 103-104; P, Mellen, Jean Clouet: Complete Edition of the Drawings, Miniatures and Paintings, London, 1971; S. Baratte, Léonard Limosin au musée du Louvre, Paris, 1993; S. Baratte, Les Émaux peints de Limoges, cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2000, pp. 317-361; I. Münsch, Maleremails des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts aus Limoges, cat. Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, 2002, pp. 140-141; S. Higgott, Catalogue of Glass and Limoges Painted Enamels, cat. The Wallace Collection, London, 2011, pp. 264-269; T. Crépin-Leblond and M. Barbier (eds.), Une reine sans couronne? Louise de Savoie, mère de François Ier, exh. cat. Musée national de la Renaissance, château d’Écouen, Paris, 2015

Sotheby’s would like to thank Judith Crouch, Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, for making the medallion at the V&A available for our inspection. We are also grateful to Erika Speel and Suzanne Higgott, Curator at the Wallace Collection, for kindly sharing thoughts and information with us.