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The ritual life of Limoges Enamels: evaluating the production, biography and deposition of prestige medieval metal work.

   School of Archaeology

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  Prof R Gilchrist  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


This project benefits from dual supervision with the British Museum, building on the University of Reading's unique partnership with the museum. It will consider the 300 Limoges enamels recovered by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) from England and Wales, most being parts of processional crosses and reliquary caskets. Artefacts of medieval metalwork from the prestigious enameling workshops of Limoges (France) relate to religious devotion and the cult of relics. In England, such artefacts are discovered principally through metal-detecting with approximately 300 (or parts thereof) recovered to date. They indicate the opulence of English parish churches and monasteries during the Middle Ages and the circulation of high-status items of religious material culture across Western Christendom. The recent discovery of a hoard of Limoges enamels, comprising artefacts dating from the 12th to 16th centuries, prompts the question of whether Limoges items were deliberately deposited at the Reformation. The project will adopt a biographical approach to these artefacts, placing them into the context of excavated evidence and surviving museum objects (both in museums and churches), primarily to consider their potential connection to ritual disposal at the Reformation.


The aims of this PhD are:

1) To interpret patterns in the production, use and deposition of Limoges enamels within a theoretical framework informed by concepts of object biographies and lived religion; to compare with the treatment of other categories of religious material culture that were subject to iconoclasm or ritual deposition/concealment in the Middle Ages and at the Reformation.

2) To characterise archaeological evidence for Limoges enamels found in England and compare this to metal-detected evidence from Denmark and the Netherlands. Is it possible to discern patterns in ecclesiastical and secular use based on their spatial distribution and depositional context?

3) To reconstruct the biography of Limoges enamels from production to deposition, including use, repair, and intentional damage; comparison will be made with intact objects that survived the Reformation, with particular reference to a sample of those in the British Museum collections.


This PhD will necessitate the careful examination of Limoges objects for signs of pre-depositional damage. In most cases this will be through an examination of the records of the PAS finds, but the aim is to also apply scientific techniques to better understand the metallic composition and biography of these items. The metal-detected artefacts will be compared to those from excavations and the surviving Limoges enamel objects in England. A sample of the Limoges objects in the British Museum will form the main comparative evidence, comprising 55 artefacts including pyxes, reliquaries, crucifixes, book covers, croziers, shrine figures, gemellions, and medallions.

The student will have an opportunity to investigate the character and nature of deposition of Limoges enamels discovered in Denmark and the Netherlands, using both published databases and collections in national and local museums. This will provide further insights into the collection from England, asking whether the practices observed in England are paralleled in other areas of Europe that turned to Protestantism in the mid-16th century. Through comparative study and the application of an object biography approach, the Limoges enamels offer outstanding potential to inform new understanding of religious practice in the late Middle Ages and the Reformation.       


Currently there is no funding available for this project, however prospective applicants can apply for AHRC SWW funding.

Applicants should have a 2.1 degree in archaeology and ideally an MA or MSc in a relevant subject for this project. While remining in the scope of the project, applicants are invited to help shape the proposal to meet their interests and expertise.

History & Archaeology (19)