Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)

Plate with the Birth of John the Baptist

Plate with the Birth of John the Baptist

Limoges, France
Mid-16th Century
Polychrome enamel on copper
19.8 cm
Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection
Object of the month - January 2015

The circular plate is painted in grisaille, heightened with flesh tones, small touches of red, and gilding. The centre depicts the birth of St. John the Baptist, within a band of griffons, masks and vases on black ground around the rim; the reverse is painted with four masks and strapwork, within rubbed gilded bands of arabesques and laurel. The reverse bears two old paper labels, including an exhibition or dealer’s label with initials A.S. & C.

This plate probably belonged to a set painted with a series of scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The story of his birth is only told in the Gospel of Luke.

The Tata plate is not signed but is close in style to the work of jean de court (active 1555-85). He was not the inventor of the decoration however. The ornamental border and strapwork to the reverse is in the typical decorative language of mid to late 16th century Mannerism and the main subject, set in a fashionable contemporary interior and depicting the newborn being washed and, in the background, being dried and warmed by the fire, is almost certainly derived from an engraving. The exact surce has not been traced but a cycle of engravings of the life of the Baptist by Martin van Heemskerck includes a very similarly composed scene