Charles Dotin is recorded working in the enamel workshop at the Sèvres porcelain manufactory (open only from 1845-72) and was a specialist in the Limoges enamel grisaille technique, inspired by the work of 16th century enamellers, particularly that of Léonard Limosin. According to Erika Speel, “The Limoges Revival began at Sèvres with scientific research to find the enamels with the qualities needed for grisaille painting, and especially the white that was vital for the figurework”.1 Dotin also worked with Charles Lepec (1830-1885), the renaissance-revival jewelry designer & enameller, collaborating together in 1865 on the magnificent “Clemence Isaure” enamel plaque (6 ft) presently in the Musée d’Orsay for which Lepec won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1867.
Erika Speel, the renowned enamel historian, has examined this plaque and has extensively analyzed the techniques employed. The plaque is comprised of three components: the central portrait plaque, the raised frame around it, and the outer border. All were executed in various Limoges enamel techniques and Speel believes that Dotin added his name and the date three times (in liquid gold) in order “to show that he could work in the three methods with equal expertise”.2 The central portrait of the King, after Francois Clouet, according to Speel, is “expertly worked” and required atleast 10 firings in the kiln “to produce this powerful image in a flawless manner”.3 In this plaque, Dotin successfully revived the Limoges enamel techniques of the renaissance masters by “fusing the clear enamels partly over precious metal foils [enriched] with gilded patterning”.4
The frame around the portrait involved an even more complicated technique akin to porcelain modelling, with which Dotin would have been familiar given his relationship with the Sèvres factory. To achieve such an effect, Speel believes that “a workable paste was prepared with enamel fondant (the basic flux) powdered and ground again with an equal weight of powdered white hard-paste porcelain, and all then ground again in the mortar with oil of lavender (aspic) and other oils, resulting in a thick paste which could then be sculpted in a bold relief design”.5 Again, Dotin may very well have been looking at the low relief enamels produced by the Nouailher and Laudin families in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Finally, the outside frame in a French mannerist style composed of strapwork ornament, is a highly accomplished example of grisaille enamel, executed in the complicated enlevage à l’aiguille technique.
The upper corners of the outside frame are each inscribed with an ‘H’ for Henri, and the lower outside frame is decorated with the Royal Arms of France below a crown. The high relief frame is decorated (top center) with the well known monogram of an ‘H’ conjoined with two interlacing symbols, which can either be interpreted as two C’s for Henri’s queen, Catherine de Medici, or as two D’s for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. It has been suggested that the the ‘H’ may actually be conjoined with two crescent moons, with which the King associated himself.
There is a similarly decorated enamel plaque depicting Diane de Poitiers in the Österreichischen Museums für angewandte kunst, signed by Pottiers, Paris 1873 illustrated by Mayerhofer.6 (This is very likely the same enameller that Speel mentions but spelled A. Potier, who is recorded working in France in the Limoges grisaille manner).7
Special thanks to Erika Speel for her thoughts and analysis of this object, based upon digital images.
1Erika Speel, Painted Enamels, An Illustrated Survey 1500-1920, Lund Humphries, 2008, p. 116-117.
2Erika Speel, my correspondence with the author.
6Ursula Mayerhofer, Alte und Moderne Kunst, 184/185 1982, Vol. 27, p. 20, no. 4. 7Speel, op. cit. 2008 p. 133 & 191.
Erika Speel, Dictionary of Enamelling History and Techniques, Ashgate, 1998.