Lot 138
  • 138

French, Limoges, circa 1215-35

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Eucharistic dove
  • champlevé enamel, parcel-gilt and engraved copper, circular base and hinged lid later
  • French, Limoges, circa 1215-35


Frédéric Spitzer (1815-1890), Paris
His sale, Paris, E. Ménard et Cie, 17 April 1893, lot 274
European Private Collection


La collection Spitzer : antiquité, Moyen-âge, Renaissance, vol. I, Maison Quantin, Paris, 1890, p. 118, no. 66
Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosite, antiques, du moyen-age & de la renaissance : composant l'importante et précieuse collection Spitzer, vol. I, E. Ménard et Cie, Paris, 1893, p. 49, no. 274, vol. III, no. 274, pl.VI (illus.)



Overall standard surface abrasions and rubbing throughout (evident in catalogue illustration). Small chips to enamel. Losses to enamel and old repair mainly on the left wing and include: some green enamel on front of wing and two feathers on that wing. Chip to green enamel on tail. Some areas of dark blue enamel on edges of wings is lacking. A few turquoise stones may have been replaced after the 13th century. One pin on wing (left side) possibly replaced. Cover to receptacle on dove's back is later. Beak slightly loose. Base is probably 19th century and two of the arms have been repaired. Legs have been reattached to the underside of the dove for stabilization. Beautiful and very rare.
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.

Catalogue Note

This rare enamel vessel is one of only approximately fifty known examples of Eucharistic Doves made by the Limoges workshops in the early 13th century. Produced in the Middle Ages, these doves were used as portable tabernacles, containing the consecrated Host and were suspended by chains above the high altar. While the dove is a symbol of purity and innocence, the suspension of this evocative vessel over the altar demonstrates its clear association with the Holy Spirit.

In 1973, Marie-Madeleine Gauthier (Festschrift, op.cit., pp. 174-180) recorded a total of forty-two known enameled doves, twelve whose locations were unknown at that time. Gauthier produced a chronology for the most important examples, comparing the use of specific designs on the plumes of the birds with those used on the documented and dated Mozac châsse. She later established two groups, the "first generation" made between circa 1200 and 1220, and the "second generation" made between circa 1215 and 1235. The present dove, which has elements from both generations, has a varied palette and three sections of colored plumes on the wings, two of which are separated by vertical bands incorporating turquoise cabochons and engraved with florets. Many birds have only two sections of colored feathers, one vertical band, and no jewels. The sequencing of colours on the feathers here are comparable to those on a fine dove in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (catalogued as first half 13th century) which also has two vertical bands inlaid with turquoise but only two, instead of three, separate sections of coloured feathers.

The dove stands upon an enameled disk set onto a gilt copper plate with four crocketed arms extending upward, terminating in hooks. The same type of copper base with faceted, upturned arms, excluding the hooks, used for the suspension of the vessel, can be seen on several doves including one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see Boehm, op.cit., cat. no. 106, pp. 318-319) and another in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow (the only other known dove with identical hooks). Another very fine bird also from the Spitzer collection (see fig.1, center right, n°273) and sold in these rooms in 8 June 2007 lot 418 from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery rests on the same base as the present and similar to the Metropolitan Museum of Art dove. All three are embellished with similarly engraved, stylized leaves at the join of the appendices, as well as a wavy line encircling the edge of the central disc. Many of the extant doves have lost their original bases, and the bases of the three aforementioned birds appear to have been made and attached to them in the 19th century. Frédéric Spitzer was well-known for combining early works of art with expertly executed elements made in his private workshop. It is therefore possible that the bases of the two Spitzer doves and perhaps the Metropolitan Museum bird were fashioned by Spitzer goldsmiths.

In 1852, Spitzer settled in Paris and became one of Europe’s leading buyers and sellers of art, especially known for his passion for medieval and Renaissance works. Upon his death in 1890, his private collection was one of the largest and most coveted in fin-de-siècle Europe. The Spitzer collection was publicly auctioned over 3 months in 1893. In the months before the sale, editorials in American newspapers appealed to institutions and private donors to coordinate the purchase of the collection as a whole for a public museum such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Despite such pleas, most of the collection was bought by the Australian-born but London-based private collector George Salting (1835–1909), who bequeathed his collection to the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, and the Victoria and Albert Museum

M.-M. Gauthier, "Colombe limousine prise aux rêts d'un 'antiquaire' bénédictin à Saint-German-des-Prés vers 1726," in Intuition und Kunstwissenschaft: Festschrift für Hanns Swarzenski zum 70. Geburtstag am 30. August 1973 [et.al.], Berlin, 1973, pp. 171-190
R. Distelberger et. al, Western Decorative Arts, The National Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1993
B. D. Boehm, E.Taburet-Delahaye, Enamels of Limoges 1100-1350, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996
Sale catalogue Sotheby's New York, 8 June 2007, lot 418
M.-M. Gauthier et. al., Émaux méridionaux. catalogue international de l'œuvre de Limoges, vol. II, Paris 2011, no. 106, pp. 318-319