The Metropolitan Acquires a 12th century Enamelled Plaque

Plaque The Vocation of Peter and Andrew
England, c. 1170-1180
Champleve, Enameled, Engraved and Gilded
Copper - 8.6 x 12.4 cm.
Photo : De Baecque et associés

14/6/13 - Acquisition - New York, Metropolitan - Estimated at between 150 and 200,000 euros, an enamelled plaque from the late 12th century soared to 680,000 euros at the auction organized by Etienne de Baecque and Géraldine d’Ouince in Lyon on 27 May 2013. The happy buyer is none other than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Produced around 1180, it illustrates The Vocation of Peter and Andrew, and was part of an ensemble which no doubt decorated an altarpiece or reliquary. In fact, seven other plaques like this one have been located ; of the same size, showing the same border, they illustrate the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. The Metropolitan already had one before making this acquisition, representing Saint Paul and his disciples, while the V&A helps in narrating the story of the saint’s travels thanks to two other plaques showing a picturesque Saint Paul escaping in a basket over the walls of Damascus then conversing with Greek and Jewish philosophers. The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon owns two others, one depicting Christ handing the keys to Saint Peter ; finally, the museum in Lyon and the Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg each hold one.

All of these plaques bear a Latin inscription in a banner and show monumental figures who invade the composition, even overflowing outside the frame, with severe traits, wrinkled foreheads, drooping mouths and bodies which are far from static. Christ even appears to be doing a dance step, while Peter has lifted a leg outside the boat as he is holding his robe so as not to wet it ; Andrew, who is pulling on the nets, looks very supple, his bust turning one way and his head the other, towards Jesus Who is saying to them : "Venite p. me", the first words of a phrase in the Gospel : "Venite post me et faciam vos fieri piscatores hominum", that is "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."

This iconography recalls the Sicilian-Byzantine mosaics - the auction catalogue, quoting Marie-Madeleine Gauthier [1] evokes the Palatina chapel in Palermo as well as the frescoes of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome whose model was known thanks to illuminations and enamels disseminated throughout all of Europe and even England. Indeed, despite the similarities with the savoir-faire of Rheno-Mosan artisans, certain illuminated manuscripts, stylistically comparable, allow us to state that these plaques were probably produced in England. The choice of colors - violets, mauves, opaque and solid greens instead of bright green, the few shaded areas, except for those depicting the waves, the attitude of the figures and their draped robes are quite characteristic. It would be interesting to also compare them to the painted décor of Saint Gabriel’s chapel in the cathedral at Canterbury.
The exchanges between England and northern and southern Europe are studied in the exhibition on the style of 1200 between Flanders and Champagne, currently showing at the museums of Cluny and Saint-Omer (see article, in French).

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 17 juin 2013


[1] M.M. Gauthier, Emaux du moyen âge occidental, Fribourg, 1972.

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