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French, ca. 1680

Among European upper classes and royalty, small purses made of precious materials have a long tradition as part of gift giving ceremonies for special occasions. Presented as tokens of loyalty, love and remembrance, these purses were often made of luxurious silks and velvets richly embroidered with silk and metallic threads, jewels and seed pearls. In France, a custom arose in the seventeenth century of incorporating famed Limoges enamelwork portraiture plaques into these accessories, resulting in highly personal betrothal gifts.

The art of enameling metal was well established in Limoges by the seventeenth century and considered among the finest in Europe. By royal edict, the production of enamelware was limited to select families. Limoges marriage purses feature teardrop-shaped plaques on each side with portraits of the engaged couple. In this lovely example, one plaque depicts the groom dressed in his matrimonial finery, holding a scroll bearing minute fleur-de-lis in his right hand while gesturing with open palm with the left; the second plaque shows the bride, wearing a lacy cap and billowing ermine-trimmed cloak, with a medallion suspended from her right hand and her left extended in the same manner as her handsome counterpart. The pointed ends of the plaques are double pierced and decorated with delicate roses. Each plaque is bordered with green silk ribbon tabs and looped metallic fringe trim; a tassel in the shape of a petaled flower bud adds further decoration. The pouch itself is made from a single piece of brocaded green silk satin which was originally gathered by a drawstring threaded through the plaques and eyelets at the top. The interior surfaces of the plaques are lined with the same silk. Marriage purses were given by grooms to brides as symbols of their future prosperity and fecundity.

Comparable examples are in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum (2042-1855), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (43.1126, 43.1127 and 43.1128), as well as other museum collections.

Provenance: Jacques Kugel, Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.

3.75” H x 2.75” W
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