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The Ages of Love
  • Hexagonal Salt
  • The Ages of Love
  • Attributed to Colin Nouailher (active between: 1539-1545)
  • Date: 1542
  • Medium: On a pair of hollow copper bases, each consisting of six rectangular side panels of similar dimensions sealed by hexagonal top and base sections with broad borders and central, circular wells, The Ages of Love is depicted in grisaille enamel and translucent enamels with silver-grey details and with enlevage and gilding. The counter-enamel is not visible.
  • Height: 8 cm
  • Diameter: 11.5 cm
  • Weight: 219.6 g
  • Inv: C577
  • Location: Sixteenth Century Gallery
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Further Reading
  • This hexagonal salt is one of a pair with C577, which is dated 1542. They are attributed to Colin Nouailher and depict the Ages of Love, a variation of the well-established theme of the Ages of Man. The style of painting on the salts is typical of Colin Nouailher, who inscribed a number of enamels with variants of his name and initials between 1539 and 1545. Hexagonal salts in Limoges enamel were especially fashionable during the 1540s. They may have been inspired by double salts with reversible ornamental decoration, since they have a well for salt at the top and bottom. Busts of figures from Classical mythology occupy the wells of both salts.

    The salts are a manifestation of the French tradition of combining figure and text for decorative and didactic purposes. Through the combination of their figures and accompanying texts, which function like the speech bubbles of modern comics, the side panels illustrate attitudes towards lovemaking at different stages of life. On C576, the panels illustrate Venus, Cupid, and younger people, and are suggestive of romantic love: a man and a woman each hold a flower, another woman holds a heart and another man holds a falcon. On C577, by contrast, the panels apparently reflect a contemporary cynicism regarding the association of old age with romantic love: a jester, a figure personifying Fortune, and couples in middle and old age, comprising two men and a woman holding walking sticks and a woman holding a rosary. Perhaps there was an ironic intention in depicting the secular theme of lovemaking on a pair of enamel salts, since salts in more precious materials traditionally betokened purity and high status.

    Lack of consistency in the costumes depicted may indicate that there is not a specific source for the figures, but if there is one, a German model of the ‘Small Master’ genre is the most likely.