Limoges panel

One of a pair of 16th century Limoges enamels depicting members of the Pérusse des Cars family, $410,000 (£323,000) at Freeman’s Hindman.

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The Freeman’s Hindman sale of Furniture and Decorative Arts in Palm Beach on May 22 included large-scale oval portraits of two scions of a French noble family attributed to the royal enameller Leonard Limosin (c.1505-c.1577). They hammered for $410,000/£323,000 (plus 26% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of $8000-$12,000.

As titled to the frames, the subjects of these impressive 20in x 13in (50 x 33cm) panels are Jacques d'Escars and Francois Comte d'Escars, the two sons of Jacques de Pérusse (c.1490-1545), the head of the house of Pérusse des Cars. Based in Les Cars, just 24km from Limoges, he was an advisor and chamberlain to Francis I.

His eldest son Francois Comte d'Escars (1528-95), shown here dressed in the modest black robes of a Catholic cleric at a time of great religious tension in France, acquired additional family lands in the 1550s-60s as he rose to become advisor and chamberlain to Antoine de Bourbon, the king of Navarre. He was later appointed governor of Bordeaux.

Limoges panel

One of a pair of 16th century Limoges enamels depicting members of the Pérusse des Cars family, $410,000 (£323,000) at Freeman’s Hindman.

His younger brother Jacques de Pérusse II (1540-80) is shown in a domestic interior kneeling in prayer but he is dressed in the full regalia of a knight wearing a tunic embroider with the family coat of arms.

Dated to c.1560-70, both panels had some losses of enamel but only to the peripheries. The black and gilt decorated frames require restoration to shrinkage splits and paint loss.

Although apparently unsigned they are very much in the style of Leonard Limosin, the artist who entered the service of Francois I as painter and valet de chambre in the 1530s and continued to hold the position under Henri II.  Although only one fully attributed oil painting by him survives – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1551) in the Musee Municipal de l'Eveche, Limoges – more than 1000 enamels from his workshop are known.

Alongside typical devotional, mythological and allegorical scenes in the Italian Mannerist style, he specialised in these exceptionally large and finely characterised portraits made for the royal family and members of the French court. It is an indication as to their value that, at Fontainebleau, Limosin enamels were kept in the famed Cabinet des Bagues at the top of the donjon (keep) alongside cameos, intaglios and the goldwork of Benvenuto Cellini and Matteo del Nassaro.

Limoges panel

A detail of one of the pair of 16th century Limoges enamels that sold at Freeman’s Hindman.

The recent provenance for this pair of enamels includes a little American royalty. They were part of the Dallas collection of Norma Hunt (1938-2023), the wife of the American businessman Lamar Hunt, the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs and an influential figure in the birth of both the American Football League (AFL) and Major League Soccer (MLS). Famously in 1966, Lamar Hunt proposed a championship game between the winners of the two American football leagues. "I have kiddingly called it the 'Super Bowl', which obviously can be improved upon," he wrote at the time.

When she died aged 85, Norma Hunt was celebrated in the US as the only female member of the Never Miss a Super Bowl Club, having attended all 57 Super Bowls until 2023.