When Limoges had finally become the royal manufactory of enamels, under Francis I., the head of the works was Leonard Limousin, created “Valet de Chambre du Roi,” to show his sovereign’s appreciation. Remarkable examples of the work of Leonard Limousin, executed in 1547, are the large figures of the Apostles to be seen in the church of St. Pierre, at Chartres, where they are ranged about the apsidal chapel. They are painted enamels on copper sheets twenty-four by eleven inches, and are in a wonderful state of preservation. They were the gift of Henri II. to Diane de Poictiers and were brought to Chartres from the Chateau d’Anet. These enamels, being on a white ground, have something the effect of paintings in Faience; the colouring is delicate, and they have occasional gold touches.
A treatise by William of Essex directs the artist how to prepare a plate for a painted enamel, such as were used in miniature work. He says “To make a plate for the artist to paint upon: a piece of gold or copper being chosen, of requisite dimensions, and varying from about 1/18 to 1/16 of an inch in thickness, is covered with pulverized enamel, and passed through the fire, until it becomes of a white heat; another coating of enamel is then added, and the plate again fired; afterwards a thin layer of a substance called flux is laid upon the surface of the enamel, and the plate undergoes the action of heat for a third time. It is now ready for the painter to commence his picture upon.”
Leonard Limousin painted from 1532 until 1574. He used the process as described by William of Essex (which afterwards became very popular for miniaturists), and also composed veritable pictures of his own design. It is out of our province to trace the history of the Limoges enamellers after this period.
The “perils that environ men that meddle with cold iron” are many; but those who attempt to control hot iron are also to be respected, when they achieve an artistic result with this unsympathetic metal, which by nature is entirely lacking in charm, in colour and texture, and depends more upon a proper application of design than any other, in order to overcome the obstacles to beauty with which it is beset.
“Rust hath corrupted,” unfortunately, many interesting antiquities in iron, so that only a limited number of specimens of this metal have come down to us from very early times; one of the earliest in England is a grave-stone of cast metal, of the date 1350: it is decorated with a cross, and has the epitaph, “Pray for the soul of Joan Collins.”
The process of casting iron was as follows. The moulds were made of a sandy substance, composed of a mixture of brick dust, loam, plaster, and charcoal. A bed of this sand was made, and into it was pressed a wooden or metal pattern. When this was removed, the imprint remained in the sand. Liquid metal was run into the mould so formed, and would cool into the desired shape. As with a plaster cast, it was necessary to employ two such beds, the sand being firmly held in boxes, if the object was to be rounded, and then the two halves thus made were put together. Flat objects, such as fire-backs, could be run into a single mould.