Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art

Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 6. French, Limoges, circa 1210-1230 | Châsse with the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket.

Property from a Private Collection

French, Limoges, circa 1210-1230 | Châsse with the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket

Lot Closed

December 5, 03:06 PM GMT


40,000 - 60,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from a Private Collection

French, Limoges, circa 1210-1230

Châsse with the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket

partially gilt and champlevé enamelled copper, on a partial wood core

the upper plaque on the front, the lower plaque on the reverse, and the comb are later replacements

15.8 by 15.2 by 5.6cm., 6¼ by 6 by 2¼in. overall

Church of Peyrabout, Saint-Vaury (Creuse);
Church of Saint-Julien-de-Brioude, Saint-Vaury (Creuse), where recorded in 1862;
Mme Fayette, Limoges, by 1886;
François Baverey, Lyon, by 1960;
thence by descent;
Sotheby's Paris, 20 April 2012, lot 9

L. Guibert, Exposition retrospective de Limoges, 1886, pl. VIII;

S. Caudron, 'Les châsses reliquaires de Thomas Becket émaillées à Limoges', in Bulletin de la Société archéologique et historique du Limousin, vol. CXXI, 1993, pp. 66, 71 and 78;

S. Caudron and V. Notin, Thomas Becket et l'Oeuvre de Limoges (CD-rom, Corpus des Emaux méridionaux), Limoges, 2011, no. 45

Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered on 29 December 1170 by four knights on the orders of King Henry II. Shortly afterwards, miracles were reported, and in February 1173 Thomas Becket was canonised. Enamelled châsses depicting scenes from the life of Saint Thomas were crafted in the workshops of Limoges to meet the demand of worshippers fortunate enough to have acquired one of the saint's relics. 

Of the fifty-two reliquary châsses with Becket's martyrdom listed in the Corpus des Émaux Méridionaux, the majority are held in public collections. The largest and most detailed example, dated circa 1180-1190, was sold in these rooms in 1996 and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. M.66-1997). In 1538 Henry VIII de-canonised Becket following the establishment of the Church of England and ordered all images of the saint to be destroyed, accounting for the relative rarity of surviving Becket imagery.

The present châsse, recorded as no. 45 in the Corpus des Émaux, has provenance dating back to the 19th century. Having remained in the vicinity of Limoges until the mid-20th century, it featured in an exhibition of enamelled metalwork in 1886. Lacking the 'classical' applique heads displayed by most early Becket caskets, the present châsse is datable to the first decades of the 13th century. In both style and design it may be compared to a Becket casket in the Louvre (inv. no. OA 7745), dated 1220-1230, which equally depicts only two assailants in the central scene, while the lid shows a half-figure of the saint in a medallion surrounded by angels, instead of the apotheosis which appears on older examples. In both caskets the figures are more freely drawn, heralding the early Gothic style. It has been argued (Taburet-Delahaye, op. cit., p. 276) that the production of these later caskets depicting Becket's martyrdom was prompted by the solemn relocation of the saint's bones into a new shrine in 1220, which enabled a renewed distribution of his relics. The figural style of the present châsse finds another convincing parallel in an early 13th-century reliquary casket published in Bertrand, op. cit., no. 14.

E. Taburet-Delahaye and B. Drake Boehm (eds.), L'Oeuvre de Limoges: Emaux limousins du Moyen Age, exh. cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995, pp. 276-277, no. 85; E. Bertrand, Émaux Limousins du Moyen Age, exh. cat. Brimo de Laroussilhe, Paris, 1995, no. 14