I’m Dora Thornton
and I wanted to introduce an object which is quite easy to walk past
and not really take in.
So this is a very large oval platter
and it’s a presentation dish
I don’t think you’d necessarily have used it for formal dining
but you would have displayed it on a buffet.
It’s built up with layers of painted enamel on this copper substrate.
The dish itself shows a complex scene
which is an illustration of a book in the Bible.
It’s the Book of Revelation
and it’s the moment where the woman of the Apocalypse appears.
This is a vision that was given to Saint John on the island of Patmos
and he describes this woman of the Apocalypse
as the Whore of Babylon
That’s why she’s shown bare-breasted
sitting rather drunkenly on the side of a seven headed dragon
which is described in detail in the text
and she’s holding up a cup
a silver gilt wine cup
filled with the filthiness of her fornication
so it says in the Bible in the King James translation.
So this represents all her sinfulness and her sinful nature
her sinful past that she’s holding up for examination.
The dragon itself is worth a look
because it’s made out of the most wonderful melding of different enamel colours.
It’s got this kind of mauve ground
and then the scales of this dragon are picked out in gold
so that you really get a sense of the musculature of this beast.
As she’s sitting there
before her are kneeling a group of men
one of them is wearing the papal tiara or what looks like the papal tiara
there’s a cardinal with his red cardinal’s hat
and a series of princes and princes of the church
and they’re kneeling in supplication and horror
towards this vision of the Whore of Babylon.
And in the background there’s a city which is intended to represent Babylon
the ultimate sinful city that is about to be destroyed.
So it’s a picture of the apocalypse
the end of the world and how it’s going to happen as told in the Bible
In a way that was a very vivid thing that people thought was actually going to happen in 16th-century Europe.
The plate was made in Limoges in France
which specialises in this kind of enameled work.
We know it’s late 16th-century
and the artist has actually signed the piece in gold on the back
you can see that on a little sort of pavilion-style, tent-like structure on the back of the plate.
And this is for Martial Courtois
who specialised in the brilliance of colouring
and in the use of foil
that is silver foil
literally like modern kitchen foil
which he put underneath some of the translucent enamels.
And if you look at the details on the front
you can see this very clearly.
For example, this kneeling foreground figure and the man in a blue tunic
if you look he’s got a red backing to his tunic
and that is actually translucent red over this silver foil.
This technique of using foil in the 16th century is actually very delicate
and it’s often damaged over the years
so 19th-century collectors of these pieces
often bought pieces that were by necessity damaged
so 19th-century enamelers were interested in repairing these pieces as well as they could.
On this piece it’s particularly interesting
because you can see that repair very clearly.
If you go round the figure there’s a sort of outline around most of his tunic.
You can see that that is actually a replacement section in the copper
cut exactly to fit back on to the original surface of the 16th-century plate
and I think it sums up a lot of the preciousness and the value of the objects and in the Waddesdon Bequest.
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where you can see other films of this kind on other objects in the collection.
I’m Dora Thornton