A Limoges enamel reliquary casket with the martyrdom of Thomas Becket
Coloured champlevé enamel on chased and engraved gilt copper. A small "chasse" form reliquary made up of six panels clamped together at the edges and with tall L-shaped feet. The crowning openwork ridge to the top with two spherical finials. Decorated to the display side with the scene of the murder of Saint Thomas Becket, the “gable” section above with a half-figure depiction of the saint in a roundel and two angels. The back gable hinged and with a latch. The reverse decorated with angels in four roundels and as half-length figures, the sides with full-length depictions of saints. Losses of enamel to all sides. H 33.2, W 29.6, D 10.4 cm.
1st half 13th C. or later.
All the known early examples of this type of casket depict the saint's burial to the gable section above the martyrdom. However, the strict iconography of the first generation of reliquaries, which were always formed around a wooden corpus, may have been relaxed a little in the second. Since the publication by Florence Slitine, we also know that the Samson manufactory produced copies of this motif.
Private collection, Belgium.
On the early caskets cf. cat.: Enamels of Limoges 1100 - 1350, New York 1996, no. 39 (with the casket in the Louvre compared to illustrations of further examples from the Ashmolean Museum Oxford and the British Museum London). An early casket with similar decor is also kept in the Museum Schnütgen in Cologne. A further example without the wooden corpus is published in: Ibid. no. 73, and a copy by the Samson factory published in: Stiltine: Samson génie de l'imitation, Paris 2002, p. 22.