Limoges School

As early as the sixth-century, artisans in the city of Limoges, France began working with enamel, the art of fusing fine glass particles to metal to create lustrous, jewel-like effects. Over subsequent centuries, workshops in the Limoges region became famous for distinctive techniques and styles, as well as for stunning workmanship.

The earliest techniques of enameling date to antiquity, and were developed by goldsmiths. Byzantine and Celtic artisans perfected "cloisonné," a technique in which tiny strips of metal are attached to a flat surface to form raised walls that hold the molten glass. The overall effect is not unlike stained glass, which also evolved in Europe during the Middle Ages.

By the early 1100s, copper became the preferred surface for a technique called champlevé, in which molten glass is contained in areas incised or etched into the metal surface. During the twelfth-century, Limoges became a highly commercial center for enamel production. Workshops specialized in decorating ecclesiastical objects such as altarpieces, shrines, and reliquaries for use throughout Western Europe. Limoges enamel became renowned for its cool hues of lapis, cobalt, and turquoise, accented by reds, greens, and white.

After the sacking of Limoges in 1371 during the Hundred Years War, the craft of enameling nearly died out. The region gradually revived its industry as specific artisan families such as the Pénicaud, Limousin, and Reymond created distinct styles within the craft. By the early sixteenth-century, Limoges artisans introduced a technique called enamel painting in which multiple layers of molten glass are painted on, and then over-painted with white, to create a subdued color scheme.