Lot 6
  • 6

Master I. C. (workshop active circa 1550-1615) French, Limoges, circa 1600-1610

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
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  • Pair of salt cellars with the profiles of a nobleman and a lady, probably King Henri IV of France and Marie de' Medici
  • partially gilt painted enamel on copper, with a modern dark blue leather box lined with peach velvet
  • Master I. C. (workshop active circa 1550-1615) French, Limoges, circa 1600-1610
each monogrammed: I.C. to the underside of the foot


Private collection, United Kingdom


Overall the condition of the salts is good, with minor dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. There are a few areas of restoration to the the salt with the woman, including: to the white band and the 'jewelled' border at the top right, the top left, and the bottom right of the receptacle; to the blue cloak and part of the abdomen of one of the satyrs, and to the shirt of the satyr on his proper left (with a small loss); and to the joint between the upper bowl and the balustrade stem, spreading slightly up the bottom of the bowl. The white band at the centre of the stem has been mostly overpainted. There is also overpainting to around half of the white band around the foot, and restorations to two areas on the inner border of the foot. Restorations to the salt with the man include: to a small area on the white band and border on the right side of the receptacle; to the joint between the bowl and the stem, as well as a very small area on the bottom of the bowl above the stem; and to two sections of the border and the edge of the foot. There is a small loss to the edge of the receptacle of the salt with the woman, and there are a few minor chips to the white overpaint. There is particular wear to the bottom edge on the underside of each salt. There is some wear to the gilding, and the gilding has rubbed off in a few areas, particularly on the foliage around the bottom of the bowls of both salts, and around the masks. There is very minor stable splitting to the enamelling in a few areas, consistent with the material, notably to the undersides. There is some minor warping to the metal, in particular to the feet. Each salt has a small cut-in hole below the rim of the receptacle; these would have functioned as air vents during firing. There is a remnant of a paper label on the underside of the salt with the woman. The translucent enamel at the golden brown areas (principally around the bottom of each bowl) has a cloudy appearance. This may have developed over time or may be original and was simply less apparent due to the applied gilt decoration, which has been partially rubbed (as noted above). The modern box is in good condition with some wear consistent with use, including scratches to the leather exterior, in particular around the hinges.
"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 exquisite pair of richly decorated enamelled salt cellars represents an important addition to the oeuvre of the so-called Master I.C., one of the foremost workshops active in Limoges during the second half of the sixteenth century. In addition to their rarity as being an extant pair in the unusual balustrade shape, the salts are remarkable in bearing idealised portraits of a man and a woman who may be identified as Henri IV, King of France, and his wife, Marie de’ Medici. Relating to another pair of salt cellars by the Master I.C. which portray the same King and Queen, the present enamels are therefore a valuable historical document, as well as sumptuous objets de vertu.

Works by the Master I.C.

The salts bear the monogram I.C. on the underside of each foot, indicating that they were produced by the eponymous enamelling workshop active in Limoges. The identity of the maker’s mark has long been the subject of debate in the scholarship and remains partially unresolved today. Traditionally associated with the name of Jean de Court, which appears in various records from 16th-century Limoges, the mark is today thought to have been used by a major workshop which operated for several decades, from the mid-16th to the early 17th century. The workshop seems to have been led by successive enamellers with the name of Jean de Court (or variations thereof) who were probably members of the same family (see Higgott, op. cit., pp. 286-287). Works signed I.C. exist in many major collections of Limoges enamels, including the Louvre, the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich Museum in Braunschweig, and the Wallace Collection in London. These range from objects painted in grisaille, which are usually dated to the second half of the 16th century, to those that use polychromy and are thought to be of a slightly later date.

In both form and decorative scheme, the present pair of salt cellars are a characteristic product of the Master I.C. workshop. The salts are conceived in a distinctive shape, comprising a voluminous bowl at the top containing the receptacle, which joins with a balustrade stem ending in a bell-shaped foot. The gilding and polychrome painting is applied on a dark blue background with three white borders around the rims at the top, bottom and middle sections. As seen in many works signed I.C., the undersides of the feet are decorated in gold with fleurs-de-lys and dotted flower motifs. Each foot shows a Bacchic procession with goats and putti, which are characterised by their pronounced musculature. A laurel wreath runs around each foot, and the top of the stems are decorated with gilt sunrays and circles. The stems are painted with herms and fruit and gilt ‘II’s around the joints with the upper sections. One of the upper sections is painted with winged amorini, the other with infant satyrs, both separated by long-eared masks. The receptacles are painted with busts in profile on a gold-dotted background, framed by a border of gilt circles and polychrome gems. One shows a bearded man wearing a laurel wreath and a cuirass with a lion mask cauldron; the other a woman in classical drapes with braided hair and a pointed diadem.

Salts in a similar balustrade-shape appear to be solely the work of the Master I.C. workshop. Several examples of this rare object type are found in collections, all following the same basic decorative scheme, yet surviving almost exclusively as single objects rather than as pairs, which highlights the rarity of the present objects. At least three of the surviving balustrade-shaped salts are painted in grisaille. A damaged salt at the Louvre follows a similar decorative scheme but with two reclining gods, putti playing with lions and dogs, and a portrait of a woman in classical dress in the receptacle (inv. no. R263, fig. 1). Another single grisaille salt cellar of this shape is housed in Braunschweig, likewise depicting putti and beasts, while showing the profile of a man in classical armour (inv. no. Lim 138). A polychromed pair marked I.C. was reproduced in the Spitzer sale catalogue (op. cit., nos. 158-159), each apparently with the profile bust of a woman in the receptacle, and two others are housed in the Frick Collection in New York (inv. nos. 16.4.37 and 16.4.27). Of the two salts at the Frick, the one in grisaille has a varying decorative scheme and was attributed to Pierre Reymond by Vigier (op. cit., pp. 146-148), though it has more recently been associated with the Master I.C. workshop (Braunschweig, op. cit., p. 226). The other, polychromed, salt is signed I.C. and compares very closely to the present pair. The masks surrounded by scrolls, seated putti, details of the decoration, and use of vibrant colours are particularly similar, and the Frick salt equally shows a Bacchic procession with putti on the foot. It is probably the use of translucent enamel over foil (paillon), as in the present pair, which has led Sophie Baratte to suggest a later dating for the Frick example than for the grisaille in the Louvre (op. cit. 2000, p. 349). It follows therefore that the present salt cellars, too, are datable to around 1600.

The Portraits

Although the profile busts shown on the receptacles of the present salts are generally comparable to the idealised portraits shown on the other examples of this type, their distinctive headgear and facial features appear to distinguish them as important individuals. The man’s laurel wreath and lion mask pauldron mark him out as man of high military status, possibly royal, while the woman’s unusual pointed diadem suggests a similarly prominent role. Significantly, the Musées d’Angers house a pair of salt cellars by the Master I.C. whose portraits on the receptacles have been identified with certainty as Henri IV of France (r.1589-1610) and his wife, Marie de’ Medici (inv. no. MA 2 R 135, fig. 2). It is this pair of salts which confirms the assumption that the I.C. workshop continued into the early 17th century – Henri and Marie were married in 1600, ten years before the King’s death (see Baratte 1992, op. cit., pp. 32-34).

Though not of a balustrade shape and perhaps slightly less fine, the salts in Angers are stylistically close to the present pair. They share the use of luminous colours, in particular the ‘gems’ on the borders of the receptacles, and repeat the gilt dots in the background of the profiles, which are however more copious than in the present salts. It is interesting that the portraits in Angers depict the King and Queen in contemporary dress, with highly individualised features: Henri appears as a mature man with grey hair and his distinctive aquiline nose, while Marie wears a fashionable headdress with pearls, and a large ruff. The King’s head is surmounted by a rich laurel wreath, which is almost identical to that worn by the man shown on the present salt. Importantly, the portrait in Angers also includes a lion mask pauldron on the King’s shoulder, which associates the present salt with the King’s iconography. Although it is more classically idealised, with a youthful full beard, the profile of the man on the present enamel exhibits a similar long nose, as well as a similarly drooping eye and brow line. The woman, with her full cheeks and rounded nose, compares to medal portraits of Marie de’ Medici, such as those by Guillaume Dupré in the Louvre (Baratte 1992, op. cit., fig. 8).  

Given these similarities in facial features and iconography with the salts in Angers and other portraits, it is possible to identify the profiles on the present enamels as idealised depictions of King Henri IV and Marie de’Medici in the guises of classical figures. While the King is likened to a Roman Emperor, the unusual headdress of the Queen, a two-pronged diadem, identifies her as a classical goddess, perhaps Juno, whose iconography tended to include distinctive headgear. It was common in the French Renaissance for members of the royal family to be portrayed in classical guise, and there are several examples of this practice in Limoges painted enamels. Among the most famous are the plaque with Marguerite de France as Minerva in the Wallace Collection (inv. no. C589), and a plaque at the Getty Museum by Léonard Limosin, which depicts Catherine de’Medici, Marie’s predecessor as a Medici Queen of France, in the guise of Juno (inv. no. 86.SE.536.2). Henri IV’s grandfather, King Henri II, was depicted in enamelled works as Jupiter, and was also possibly portrayed in similar profile-medallion form, wearing a laurel wreath, on an enamelled footed bowl by Jean Court dit Vigier in Braunschweig (inv. no. Lim 52).

If indeed the present salt cellars depict the King and Queen, it is possible that their commission coincided with Henri IV’s historically significant visit to Limoges following times of revolt in October 1605, which marked the first royal entry into the city since the reign of Louis XI. Painted enamels from Limoges were considered luxury items in the 16th and early 17th centuries and their ownership was largely the preserve of the nobility. Although utilitarian in design, objects such as the present salts would not have been used at the table, but exhibited in Kunstkammer displays as a symbol of the owner’s wealth and sophistication. That the present salts were a highly prized and carefully looked-after possession is evidenced by their remarkably good condition and particular lack of wear within the receptacles. Whether they were a royal commission, or owned by an eminent supporter of the King, remains intriguingly unknown.

La Collection Spitzer, Paris, 1891, vol. 2, nos. 158-159; P. Verdier et al., Enamels, Rugs and Silver in the Frick Collection, cat. The Frick Collection, New York, 1977; S. Baratte, ‘Remarques sur les émaux peints de Limoges sous Henri IV’, in Les Arts au temps d’Henri IV. Volumes des actes du colloque Fontainebleau. Avenement d’Henri IV. Quatrième centenaire, colloque V, les arts au temps d’Henri IV, Fontainebleau 20-21 September 1990, Pau, 1992, pp. 27-39; 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. 223-234; S. Higgott, Catalogue of Glass and Limoges Painted Enamels, cat. The Wallace Collection, London, 2011