A Limoges enamel of the Nativity attributed to Pierre Reymond or workshop
Pierre Reymond (1513-aft. 1584) or workshop or possibly Pierre II Veyrier (?)
Grisaille enamel on copper with gilt embellishments
Probably 1560s; Limoges, France
Approximate size: 9.5 x 8 cm
The present enamel with an arched top was intended for setting into a pax.
The Nativity scene features an unusual composition with Joseph stepping into the room with one foot planted while removing his hat and illuminating the scene with a torch in his other hand. There is a sense of hasty arrival, which adds action to an otherwise pensive scene.
This rare adaptation of the Nativity is reproduced on four other documented enamels, all with rounded tops save for one squared example from the Cottreau collection (Galerie Georges Petit auction, 29 Apr 1910, Lot 76). The Cottreau example is monogrammed “M I” today identified as belonging to Martial Ydeux dit le Pepe. Another, perhaps early, example of the motif is located at the Fitzwilliam Museum, featuring also a straw roof and bricked interior like the Cottreau Nativity. In 1911 Marquet de Vasselot described the Fitzwilliam Nativity as a late work by Pierre Reymond while Bernard Rackham later suggested it to be an early work by Reymond, a view still upheld today. The present author, however, considers also the possibility that this enamel may not belong to Reymond at all, but rather another artist working close to his style: possibly Pierre II Veyrier, documented as active in Limoges ca. 1528-58. The thick strokes, rigid and dense hatching, severely rendered wavy hair as well as the manner of depicting the brick facade recalls characteristics observed on a Passion series of nine plaques at the Walters Museum, one of which is monogrammed with characters identified as belonging to Veyrier. His work follows closely with the early manner of Reymond yet infusing his designs with the colors observed in works by Pierre Courteys, in particular the purple-like tint of his flesh tones. Contrarily, Verdier has commented that blue backgrounds were typical of Reymond’s early works in color.
As both Martial Ydeux and Pierre II Veyrier shared close affinities with Reymond it is no surprise that the present enamel has been given to Reymond. There is a further example that was offered by Bonhams (Bonhams auction, 19 Dec 2013, Lot 4), in what appears to be an old pax, though the age of the pax and enamel have been questioned as 19th century (by Bonhams staff) the present author insists may indeed be 16th century objects.
The artists working on this composition shared a common model, yet to be identified. The most delicate and sophisticated of all examples appears to be the present example offered here. The coloring and level of refinement suggest a later execution by Reymond or his workshop, probably during the 1560s.
The lovely gilt frame is later, probably by a British goldsmith, ca. 1880-90.
Condition commensurate with age with some heavy losses toward the upper portion of the scene, expertly restored by a fine hand.