Obituary: Marie-Madeleine Gauthier

MARIE-MADELEINE Gauthier was the world's leading authority on medieval enamels. She first made her name with entries in the catalogue of an exhibition held in 1948 at Limoges, and followed them up with her first book on champleve enamels, Emaux limousins des XIIe, XIIIe, et XIVe siecles (1950). Her lifelong journey in search of medieval enamels had begun.

In the period between the 12th and 14th centuries the metalworkers of Limoges perfected the champleve technique in which powdered enamel was poured into grooves engraved on a metal surface, generally of copper. The enamel was then fired and polished down to the level of the surrounding metal. The vibrant colours of the vitreous enamel, intense blues, greens and yellow, and the near industrial scale of production were to conquer the European market.

Marie-Madeleine Coste was born in Langon in the Gironde in 1920 and studied at the university in Bordeaux. She became a librarian, and it was while she was working in the library at Limoges that her interest in medieval enamels was kindled. In 1947 she married Serge Gauthier, a distinguished bibliophile, who went on to be director of the Manufacture at Sevres and Librarian of the Pompidou Centre.

The great Russian emigre scholar of medieval and Christian art Andre Grabar ran a seminar at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris which exerted a profound intellectual influence on Marie-Madeleine Gauthier early on in her career, and which was characterised by an almost tangible excitement. It was in this context that she published her path-breaking studies of Pope Innocent III's early-13th-century Limoges enamel decoration for the front of the confessio of Old Saint Peter's, the martyr's basilica, in Rome.

These linked papers show all the hallmarks of her finest work - meticulous attention to detail, a profound knowledge of the objects themselves, sympathetic understanding of the makers, and their clients, and a rare capacity to set the works convincingly in a wider art-historical and cultural context. Never previously had the study of Limoges enamels moved so radically from its local and antiquarian roots and taken wing on the European stage.

Besides highly specialised investigations of individual objects Gauthier found time to write a magnificent work of synthesis, Emaux du moyen age occidental (1972). This beautiful book demonstrated her mastery not only of the opaque enamels of Limoges but also of the magical translucent enamels of Italy and France.

Translucent enamels used the basse-taille technique whereby a glaze of transparent enamel is applied to delicate reliefs of gold or silver and the enamel shows its hues most strongly where the relief is most deeply cut. The technique emerged almost simultaneously in the last decades of the 13th century at Siena and Paris. This book remains by far the most authoritative and illuminating general discussion of the subject.

More subjective and perhaps ultimately less persuasive was Les Routes de la Foi, reliques et reliquaires de Jerusalem a Compostelle (1983), which was translated into several languages, including English (as Highways of the Faith: relics and reliquaries from Jerusalem to Compostela, 1987). However, it continues to impress as a deeply felt and imaginative spiritual pilgrimage among the shrines and reliquaries of medieval Europe.

These general works were complementary to the great Corpus of Enamels which will unquestionably be Gauthier's most enduring monument, the Catalogue International de l'Oeuvre de Limoges. The noble first volume was published in 1987, covering the Romanesque period and systematically describing and illustrating more than 330 pieces. The second volume, which is ready for the press, will reach as far as the middle of the 13th century, and two further volumes are in preparation by the devoted team of helpers she gathered around her.

Marie-Madeleine Gauthier had an almost intuitive awareness of new directions in medieval scholarship. In 1978 she published a pioneering paper on the development circa 1230 in the Limousin workshops of folding tabernacles which contributed to the emerging European fashion for altarpieces. It was a reflection of her perennial fascination with the Realien of Christianity, a fascination which could also encompass the diocesan organisation of late-antique Gaul, the narratives of Thomas Becket's martyrdom, or the ravaged effigy of Pope Clement V in his collegiate church at Uzeste, near Bordeaux.

Those who were privileged to count her as a friend will never forget the ardent curiosity and joyous enthusiasm which so marked her. It might appear when examining a masterpiece in Burgos cathedral, or an unknown Limoges enamel in an antique shop at Stow-on-the-Wold, where her pertinacity and exquisite courtesy entranced the proprietor. Her erudition might be worn with captivating lightness, but it was none the less deep and exacting.

Honours rightly came to her in her native country and from abroad. She was a Membre de la Commission Superieure des Monuments Historiques, a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy (1983), and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. At Princeton during her year's residence, she came into contact with Erwin Panofsky and Millard Meiss, which was a deeply affecting intellectual experience.

In England the great palaeographer Francis Wormald, at the British Museum, was an inspiration and a lifelong friend, and she began early in the 1950s to rebuild scholarly bridges with Germany. Right to the end she had an enviable capacity to inspire and help others. She worked tirelessly and contributed to the two memorable Council of Europe exhibitions dedicated to the Romanesque and Gothic styles at Barcelona and Paris respectively.

The great double exhibition devoted to Limoges enamels at the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1995/96, was a tribute to her scholarly achievement, and probably her monument. Among her many international obligations she could still devote time to a lecture explique of a colleague's work in a local archaeological periodical and encourage others to write with cheerful sympathy and down-to-earth practical advice. She died suddenly at her home, and her death has only recently been announced in England.

Mimi Gauthier remained close to her roots in Langon, sustained by the love of her husband Serge, and an admiration for the burgeoning achievement of her architect son. It was an entrancing household, cheerful, deeply cultivated and seriously appreciative of food and fine wines, for she was a wine- merchant's daughter.

Marie-Madeleine Coste, librarian and medieval art historian: born Langon, France 25 April 1920; married 1947 Serge Gauthier (one son); died Langon 20 May 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders