Baptism of Christ

French (Limoges)
Medieval
mid-13th century
Made at Limoges (France)


Object Place: Limoges, France

Dimensions

36.8 x 21.1 x 2.8 cm (14 1/2 x 8 5/16 x 1 1/8 in.)

Accession Number

50.858

Medium or Technique

Champlevé enamel and gilding on copper

On View

I. W. Colburn Chapel Gallery (Gallery 254A)

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Enamels

Relief with three pinholes (in the ewer and lower corners) representing John the Baptist in three-quarter view pouring water from a ewer over a nimbed frontal Christ. With his right arm raised in benediction, Christ stands immersed to the thighs in water (the river Jordan). Single copper sheet, repoussé (into a mold), cut out, champlevé, engraved, chased, enameled, and gilded. The blue glass eyes are inset. Both figures have finely chased long hair and beards. Curved segments of white enamel indicate the movement of the water, in which fish are in reserve and engraved. All except two swim to the left. Saint John’s garment is chased to indicate fur on the outside.


This relief was originally one of several scenes from the life of Christ that were mounted on a flat plaque that decorated an altar. It is of exceptional quality, with the gilded-copper surface skillfully worked to capture the textures of hair, fur, and water. The relief is unusual in showing John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in two ways—by pouring water from a ewer over his head and by immersing him in the river Jordan. Jesus, his hand raised in blessing, stands in water whose ripples are suggested by curved segments of white enamel interspersed with shapes of swimming fish.

Provenance

By 1865, Albert Germeau (d. by 1868), France [see note 1]; May 5, 1868, Germeau sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, lot 51. By 1880, Princess Isabella Dzialynska (née Czartoryski) (b. 1832 - d. 1899), Goluchow Castle, Poznan, Poland; until World War II, by descent within Czartoryski family [see note 2]. By 1950, J. Pollack (dealer), Paris; sold by Pollack to Wildenstein and Co., New York; 1950, sold by Wildenstein to the MFA [see note 3]. (Accession Date: May 11, 1950)

NOTES:
[1] Albert Germeau was the prefect of Oise, France, in 1838. [2] During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Czartoryski family were celebrated collectors of art in Poland. They housed their collections in the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, and the Goluchow Castle, Poznan. With the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the family hid much of their collection behind a fake wall at Sieniawa Palace (outside Kraków), in the basement of the museum, and in a relative's home in Pewkinie. Nazis eventually discovered and confiscated many of these works of art, which were moved about several times during the war. While Allied forces restituted much of the collection after the war, many objects had been traded, lost, and looted and were not returned to the Czartoryski family. [3] In 1951, Prince Wladyslaw Czartoryski of London filed a lawsuit notifying both Wildenstein and the MFA that this object and another enamel (MFA no. 51.7) had been unlawfully seized by the Nazis from his family's collection during World War II. A settlement was ultimately reached among all parties, giving the MFA full ownership of both enamels. Prince Czartoryski signed an agreement on July 11, 1955 assigning legal ownership of the objects to Wildenstein and the MFA (in MFA curatorial file). It was further arranged between Wildenstein and the MFA that the museum was the full owner of the enamels; this is documented in a letter from Georges Wildenstein to Georg Swarzenski of the MFA (June 30, 1955; in MFA curatorial file).

Credit Line

Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912