Lot 6. Master I. C. (workshop active circa 1550-1615), French, Limoges, circa 1600-1610, Pair of salt cellars with the profiles of a nobleman and a lady, probably King Henri IV of France and Marie de' Medici. Estimation 100,000 — 150,000 GBP. Photo Sotheby's

each monogrammed: I.C. to the underside of the foot; partially gilt painted enamel on copper, with a modern dark blue leather box lined with peach velvet; salts: 14 by 8.6cm., 5½ by 3 3/8 in. each; box: 16 by 22 by 12cm., 6¼ by 8 5/8  by 4¾in.

Provenance: Private collection, United Kingdom

NotesThis exquisite pair of richly decorated enamelled salt cellars represents an important addition to the oeuvre of the so-called Master I.C., one of the foremost workshops active in Limoges during the second half of the sixteenth century. In addition to their rarity as being an extant pair in the unusual balustrade shape, the salts are remarkable in bearing idealised portraits of a man and a woman who may be identified as Henri IV, King of France, and his wife, Marie de’ Medici. Relating to another pair of salt cellars by the Master I.C. which portray the same King and Queen, the present enamels are therefore a valuable historical document, as well as sumptuous objets de vertu




Works by the Master I.C.

The salts bear the monogram I.C. on the underside of each foot, indicating that they were produced by the eponymous enamelling workshop active in Limoges. The identity of the maker’s mark has long been the subject of debate in the scholarship and remains partially unresolved today. Traditionally associated with the name of Jean de Court, which appears in various records from 16th-century Limoges, the mark is today thought to have been used by a major workshop which operated for several decades, from the mid-16th to the early 17th century. The workshop seems to have been led by successive enamellers with the name of Jean de Court (or variations thereof) who were probably members of the same family (see Higgott, op. cit., pp. 286-287). Works signed I.C. exist in many major collections of Limoges enamels, including the Louvre, the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich Museum in Braunschweig, and the Wallace Collection in London. These range from objects painted in grisaille, which are usually dated to the second half of the 16th century, to those that use polychromy and are thought to be of a slightly later date.

In both form and decorative scheme, the present pair of salt cellars are a characteristic product of the Master I.C. workshop. The salts are conceived in a distinctive shape, comprising a voluminous bowl at the top containing the receptacle, which joins with a balustrade stem ending in a bell-shaped foot. The gilding and polychrome painting is applied on a dark blue background with three white borders around the rims at the top, bottom and middle sections. As seen in many works signed I.C., the undersides of the feet are decorated in gold with fleurs-de-lys and dotted flower motifs. Each foot shows a Bacchic procession with goats and putti, which are characterised by their pronounced musculature. A laurel wreath runs around each foot, and the top of the stems are decorated with gilt sunrays and circles. The stems are painted with herms and fruit and gilt ‘II’s around the joints with the upper sections. One of the upper sections is painted with winged amorini, the other with infant satyrs, both separated by long-eared masks. The receptacles are painted with busts in profile on a gold-dotted background, framed by a border of gilt circles and polychrome gems. One shows a bearded man wearing a laurel wreath and a cuirass with a lion mask cauldron; the other a woman in classical drapes with braided hair and a pointed diadem. 

Salts in a similar balustrade-shape appear to be solely the work of the Master I.C. workshop. Several examples of this rare object type are found in collections, all following the same basic decorative scheme, yet surviving almost exclusively as single objects rather than as pairs, which highlights the rarity of the present objects. At least three of the surviving balustrade-shaped salts are painted in grisaille. A damaged salt at the Louvre follows a similar decorative scheme but with two reclining gods, putti playing with lions and dogs, and a portrait of a woman in classical dress in the receptacle (inv. no. R263, fig. 1). Another single grisaille salt cellar of this shape is housed in Braunschweig, likewise depicting putti and beasts, while showing the profile of a man in classical armour (inv. no. Lim 138). A polychromed pair marked I.C. was reproduced in the Spitzer sale catalogue (op. cit., nos. 158-159), each apparently with the profile bust of a woman in the receptacle, and two others are housed in the Frick Collection in New York (inv. nos. 16.4.37 and 16.4.27). Of the two salts at the Frick, the one in grisaille has a varying decorative scheme and was attributed to Pierre Reymond by Vigier (op. cit., pp. 146-148), though it has more recently been associated with the Master I.C. workshop (Braunschweig, op. cit., p. 226). The other, polychromed, salt is signed I.C. and compares very closely to the present pair. The masks surrounded by scrolls, seated putti, details of the decoration, and use of vibrant colours are particularly similar, and the Frick salt equally shows a Bacchic procession with putti on the foot. It is probably the use of translucent enamel over foil (paillon), as in the present pair, which has led Sophie Baratte to suggest a later dating for the Frick example than for the grisaille in the Louvre (op. cit. 2000, p. 349). It follows therefore that the present salt cellars, too, are datable to around 1600.




fig. 1. Salière : Jeux d’enfants, Master I.C., enamel, Paris, Musée du Louvre (Inv. No. R263). Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle.

The Portraits

Although the profile busts shown on the receptacles of the present salts are generally comparable to the idealised portraits shown on the other examples of this type, their distinctive headgear and facial features appear to distinguish them as important individuals. The man’s laurel wreath and lion mask pauldron mark him out as man of high military status, possibly royal, while the woman’s unusual pointed diadem suggests a similarly prominent role. Significantly, the Musées d’Angers house a pair of salt cellars by the Master I.C. whose portraits on the receptacles have been identified with certainty as Henri IV of France (r.1589-1610) and his wife, Marie de’ Medici (inv. no. MA 2 R 135, fig. 2). It is this pair of salts which confirms the assumption that the I.C. workshop continued into the early 17th century – Henri and Marie were married in 1600, ten years before the King’s death (see Baratte 1992, op. cit., pp. 32-34).




fig. 2. Pair of enamelled salts (detail), Master I.C., enamel, Angers, Musée d’Angers (Inv. No. MA II R 135 a, b). Photo: © Musées d’Angers, P. David.