top of page

Enamelled recumbent effigy tombs

At the end of the XIII century, Limoges workshops were specialised in the production of enamelled and gilded copper tombs on wooden cores, which were exported throughout medieval Europe.

tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Blanche de France
tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Jean de France

Out of some fifty or so copper and enamel tombs sourced from Limoges, only five have survived: that of Mauricio (1238) Burgos…those of the children of Louis IX, in St Denis, Blanche of Champagne in the Louvre, William of Lusignan in Westminster  in London. Masterpieces that have been often exported in spare parts and eventually assembled on the spot by a Limousin Master.



Another tomb is that of Knight Roger of Brosse (1287), buried in the choir of the     Cistercian Abbey of Prébenoît in the Limousin Marche. It was destroyed during the Revolution and has been partially rediscovered.


Geographically, the distribution area of tombs issued from the Work of Limoges, is focussed in Western France, enlarged with English and Spanish tombs, with a most extensive concentration in Limousin, and in Maine, Anjou and Brittany regions. It is therefore more limited than the distribution area of Limoges enamels which roughly encompassed the whole of medieval Europe.



Of King St Louis, it is in the wall on the left of the large…

tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Alix of Thouars

Curiously enough, while the peak of the works of Limoges took place at the end of the XII century and as production standardized during the XIII century, these lavish tombs were produced between the mid-XIII century and mid-XIV century. This offset in time is better understood when taking in account the fact that the expansion of recumbent effigy tombs, first developed at the end of XI century, and only happened during the XIII century.


It is also due to the fact that Limousin enamellers only began to produce embossed images in the XIII century, starting first to create “appliqué” items of modest dimensions, which preceded life-size recumbent effigies by several decades.


Ultimately, the durable success of these structures rests on their heraldic imagery; at a time when coats of arms came into widespread use, enamel is one of the materials enabling better reproduction of the colours of coats of arms, and the Limousin enamellers could duplicate shields of arms on tombs, transcribing the deceased’s alliances and genealogy in a glowing way.


(Source - Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages / Dossier de l'Art)


Tomb of Alix of Thouars (1221) and of Yolande of Britany (1272) Album of Gaignieres

The valuable albums of Gaignieres


Only five tombs of the Work of Limoges survived, they are the enamelled plates of John and Blanche of France (respectively 1248 and 1243), Saint Louis’ children, dead in infancy, the effigy tomb of Blanche of Champagne (1283) and two tombs still in their original location: that of Bishop Mauricio of Burgos (1238), in the choir of the Cathedral, and that of William of Pembroke (1288) in a chapel of Westminster Abbey. 


These five art pieces suffered more or less serious degradations. In contrast, nearly twenty five other structures, which either disappeared during the Wars of Religion, or fell victims to the decorators of Canons during the XVIII century or of the French Revolution, are only known through ancient sources. As so often is the case in the field of funerary art, the collections of drawings by Roger de Gaignières (1642-1715) are an invaluable source: they indeed include watercolour records of about ten tombs from the Work of Limoges.


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

tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Blanche de France

Tombs of John and Blanche of France (1248 and 1243)- Abbey Church of Saint-Denis.


The Tombs of the two children of Saint Louis are recumbent Effigies in thick Champlevé enamelled copper and are the two rare illustrations of a skill of which many different types could be found in the XIII century. The character made of gilt-copper is laid down on an enamelled slab decorated with interlaced plant patterns. Each of the two tombs measure 1 meter long and 59 centimetres wide. The children’s eyes are open towards Eternity.

In her right hand, Blanche appears to hold what has been identified as a games ball, while John holds a sceptre, attributed (and) usually forbidden for a younger child of France. This noteworthy exception remains a mystery.


tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work



Scarce archival records provide us with documents relating to the manufacture of these tombs.


 In 1267, the Prior of Grandmont writes to Thibaut V, Count of Champagne, a letter entrusted to a burgher of Limoges, John of Chaptelat, to ask him where he should have his father’s tomb Yhibaut IV (1253) shipped and  to request payment. This notice brings to light the role of Grandmont as a likely financial intermediary and of a courier between a “manufacturer”  firmly established in Limousin, and a distant sponsor.


More detailed, the payments made by the heirs to Bishop of Rochester, Walter of Merton (1276), and record a remittance to a “ Master John of Limoges” for the manufacture and the ‘cartage’ of the tomb, a remittance to a trustworthy man monitoring the manufacture of the tomb in Limoges, and a final remittance to a haulier in charge of collecting the tomb in Limoges, to transport it to Rochester and bring Master John along. One can therefore assume that the enamelling of the copper plates and the formatting of the copper coating of the effigy were performed in Limoges as was the sculpture of wooden frame of the effigy. But the manufacture of the casket, mere carpentry work, could have been executed on the spot, possibly under the coaching of a Limousin craftsman, sent to ensure the assembly of the structure.


Lastly, a final document concerns the tomb of Blanche of Champagne, Duchess of Britany, deceased in 1283, commissioned by her son John II, Duke of Brittany, it was paid in 1306 for an amount of £450 (pounds), most probably when the tomb was just completed, rare phenomenon for medieval art; this record concerns the prostrate effigy which is the only part left of the tomb, and which is preserved in the Louvre Museum.


 (Source - Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages / Dossier de l'Art)



The collation of the drawings of the albums of Gaignières with the preserved tombs provides an insight in the structure of these monuments.


Enamelled copper plates, punctuated by medallions featuring busts of angels or armorial shields, were nailed onto a parallelepiped wooden casket comprising a step and a ledge. The protruding ledge forms a frame around the effigy placed on the casket; the level gap between this frame, also decorated with armorial shields or medallions of small images, and the lowest level where the effigy rests, is simply bevelled with the epitaph of the prostrate effigy, in enamelled letters engraved on thin gilt-copper strips. The bottom is mostly covered with enamel plates decorated with scrolls or coats of arms.


For the most meticulous structures, like those of Saint Louis’ children, embossed images “appliqué”, angels or clerics, surrounded the effigy tomb. The latter comprised a wooden core, covered with shaped gilded copper plates, simply nailed onto the wood.

Enamel was sparingly used, mainly in the form of  applied plates, illustrating details of the clothes. Most unusually, the eyes of John and Blanche of France are enamelled. The only validation today of filigree, which was often used by Limousin goldsmiths, is through the tomb of William of Pembroke (1288) whose head’s outline and sleeves are decorated with filigree strips.


 (Source - Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages / Dossier de l'Art)

tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Rochester
tomb effigy adorned with Limoges champleve enamel work Angers




 The persons buried under the monuments of the Work(s) of Limoges are quite often Bishops, many of them known for their connections with Grandmont: Gerald, Bishop of Cahors (1199) and Aymeric Guerry, Archbishop of Lyon (1257) rested in the Grandmont church itself, and Michel of Villoiseau, Bishop of Angers (1260), buried in the Church of the Jacobins of his city, specifically protected the Grandmont “succursale” of Haye-aux-Bonshommes.


Furthermore, the traditional penchant of two noble French families for metalwork tombs, understandably brought about commissions to the Limousin enamellers.  These are the Counts of Champagne, from Henry I, the Liberal (1181) and Thibaut III (1201), whose silver monuments once adorned the choir of Saint Stephen of Troyes Collegiate Church, to Thibaut V (1270) whose heart was preserved in a small building covered with copper plates, which might have been originally small armorial enamelled plates. Before it disappeared during the troubles of 1276, the tomb of Thibaut IV (1253), kept in the Cathedral of Pamplune, was part of the Work of Limoges; similarly, it might have been the case for the tomb of his son Henry I, King of Navarre (1274), also victim of the 1276 plunder.


The other family, loyal to metalwork tombs, was the Dreux family, closely related to the Capetians; Robert II, Count of Dreux (1218), Pierre Mauclerc (1250) and Marie de Bourbon (1274) rested under metalwork tombs in their necropolis of  Saint-Yved de Braine, between Soissons and Reims. But it was the heirs of Pierre Mauclerc, who became Duke of Britany in 1213, who most frequently called in Limoges enamellers, since at least four of their graves are made in Work of Limoges’ craft.


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

Enamelled copper tombs in the choir of the Church of the Jacobins in Angers, covered with several plates.



Only once, did the French Royal Family use the services of the Limousin enamellers, for the two children of Saint Louis, whose tombs are preserved. They were made in the early time of production of the Limousin tomb makers, and it is doubtful that the transfer of Limousin under English servitude, in 1258, would have compromised any new project of royal patrons.


Yet, at the end of XIII century and during the first half of XIV century, the diversity of beneficiaries of tombs in Work of Limoges appears to widen: noble families, from Normandy to Agenais, relatives of the Dukes of Brittany and even burghers from Angers; it is also true that it includes members of the Count of Anjou’s entourage. From the tombs of the latter, Herbert Lanier and his wife Alès, which were preserved in a priory near Angers till the Revolution, only two superb beaten copper masks survive that are shared between the Louvre and the Anger Museums.


(Source - Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages / Dossier de l'Art)

Anchor 4
bottom of page