The Twelve Sibyls enamel plaques by Léonard Limousin

From Limoges, France, around AD 1535-40

The set of plaques depict the Twelve Sibyls, ancient prophetesses of the coming of Christ. Three of them are signed 'LL' for Léonard Limousin (around 1505-1575/77). Limousin lived at the French court under the patronage of François I (reigned 1515-47) and Henri II (reigned 1547-59), while directing an enamelling workshop in Limoges. Limoges was the principal centre for painted enamel from the late fifteenth century, with a number of different workshops with highly skilled painters. Limousin was one of the most skilled and celebrated.

The technique used to make the plaques, painting enamel in a liquid medium on to the copper base before firing, allows great variation and subtlety in shades and graphic effects. Grisaille enamelling, in shades of grey and white tones on a black ground, was especially popular from the 1530s. The strapwork decoration and classical themes are typical of the Italianate Mannerist decoration carried out in King François I's Château of Fontainebleau.

Two of the set of twelve are shown here, the European Sibyl and the Cimmerian Sibyl. The twelve can be identified as follows:

1. The Persian Sibyl (Sybila Persica) holds a lantern, symbol of the coming of the Saviour (Christ).
2. The Libyan Sibyl (Sybila Lubica) carries a lighted torch, alluding to the illumination of darkness at the advent of the Saviour.
3. The Erythean Sibyl (Sybila Richea) holds a rose, symbol of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
4. The Cumaean Sibyl holds a bowl, symbol of the Nativity of Christ.
5. The Samian Sibyl (Sybila Sanne) holds a cradle, symbol of Christ's Nativity.
6. The Cimmerian Sibyl holds a cornucopia, symbol of the Golden Age.
7. The European Sibyl holds a sword, symbol of the Massacre of the Innocents.
8. The Tiburtian Sibyl holds a hand, symbol of the Scourging of Christ.
9. The Egyptian Sibyl (Sybila Agripa) holds a long-handled scourge, alluding to the Flagellation of Christ.
10. The Delphian Sibyl holds the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ on the Cross.
11. The Hellespontine Sibyl holds the Cross of Calvary on which Christ was crucified.
12. The Phrygian Sibyl (Sybila Lybica) holds a cross staff with pennant, a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ.

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The Twelve Sibyls enamel plaques by Léonard Limousin

European Sibyl

  • Cimmerian Sibyl

    Cimmerian Sibyl


More information


P. Verdier, Catalogue of the painted ename (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1967)

M.M. Gauthier, Émaux du moyen-âge occidental (Fribourg, 1972)


Length: 13.000 cm
Width: 13.000 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1854,6-5,1



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