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Enamelled book cover plates

Liturgical book covers had decorated plates. They serve both as protection and status “ornamentation” of the manuscript. Books are indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, undeniable wealth, part of the inventories of the treasures of the great Abbeys or Cathedrals.


Some of these “covers” are preserved, but most often detached from the original manuscript, in order to be sold. With their extensive production, towards the end of XII century, enamel workshops of Limoges did not miss the opportunity to create some pieces that are well-preserved today.


These book cover plates comprise of a central rectangular enamel plate, surrounded by a bevelled band, often made of embossed metal, and by a frame made of enamelled plates fitted to each other. The central plate, protected by its grooved position, is decorated with embossed “appliqué” images. The plates come in a pair, and feature, one of the Crucifixion, the other of Christ in majesty.


Liturgical books were generally provided with rich book covers consisting of two boards decorated with ivory or goldsmithery plates. The numerous book cover plates made by Limousin goldsmiths seem to have mostly decorated Evangeliaria, of  which the upper plate traditionally depicts the Crucified Christ and the lower plate, Christ in majesty. The crucified Christ is often surrounded by the Virgin and Saint John, the arms of the cross are topped by the sun’s or the moon’s embodiment or, sometimes, by two images of angels.


The depiction of Adam, rising from his tomb, sometimes scaled down to a mere skull, is positioned at the bottom of the Cross, so as to allude to the resurrection of the dead. Christ in Majesty, enthroned on the rainbow according to the Revelation, generally enclosed in a mandorla with symbols of the four Apostles. The style of book cover  plates follows general fashion trends of the Limousin enamels at the end of XII century and during the XIII century.



(Source - Les émaux de Limoges au Moyen Age / Dossier de l'Art)

XIII century enamelled book cover plates from Limoges. Church of Saint-Nectaire

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