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During the Middle Ages, the Abbey of Saint-Martial was a famous stopping place on the pilgrimage route to Compostela. Strong demand for religious souvenirs and the worship of relics contributed to the development of arts and crafts, with the goldsmith’s art followed by copper champlevé enamel. The large-scale production of Limousin enamel spread throughout the entire Christian western world.
The Renaissance saw the arrival of painted enamel, grisaille, and the emergence of secular themes with a predilection for Greek and Roman Antiquity. Workshops were run by owners who left their signature on their work and built up veritable enamel dynasties. Léonard Limosin and Pierre Reymond are just two of the most famous.
After something of an eclipse for many long years, enamel experienced a revival during the 19th century. Léon Jouhaud and the Art Deco movement contributed to the upturn in its popularity.
In the post-war years, enamelers from across the world gathered in Limoges every other year between 1972 and 1994 for the Bienniale de l’Email created by Georges Magadoux, famous for his blue enamel creations giving pride of place to contemporary art. Today, despite the ups and downs of any traditional arts and crafts profession, the Limoges enamel producers are still putting all their passion into their enamel.
Enamel is a crystalline fusion of metallic oxides and minerals. Sometimes gilded with gold or silver plated, it is placed on a copper sheet and vitrified while fired in a kiln heated to 800°C. The cloisonné technique consists of defining the outline of the design with the aid of gold or silver wire before placing the enamel powder in the outlined areas. For champlevé enamel, cells are carved into copper plate and filled with enamel. Painted enamel is produced using a paintbrush on an enamel background; in the case of grisaille, the design is painted in tones of white or grey on a black background.
Boasting a unique collection of enamel from all eras and in all styles, the Fine Arts Museum is not to be missed.