Skip to content

Inside the Masterwork: Bapst & Falize

Made by Bapst and Falize circa 1887, this enamel and diamond bracelet is a magnificent specimen of lost jeweler’s arts. Lucien Falize proudly declared: “[These] bracelets are intimate mementos... They will no longer be broken up, but will be handed down as family heirlooms, as precious as illuminated parchments.” Falize’s designs were primarily based on the art of Late Medieval and Renaissance illumination, whereby elaborate floral borders demonstrated artists' interest in capturing visual experiences and representations of the natural world. The trend towards naturalistic marginalia was influenced by the Dutch Devotio Moderna religious movement. These reformists held that the divine was ever-present, and could be readily seen in nature.

 Botanical marginalia detail, Hours of Queen Isabella the Catholic, Queen of Spain: Fol. 4r, March, Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximillian and Associates, c. 1500, The Cleveland Museum of Art

A bucolic vision of heaven gained popularity with the proliferation of the Elucidation (ca. 1100), a Bavarian monastic manual. While noble theologians, authors, and artists had described the holy realm as a city of golden spires, crystal towers, and jeweled buildings encrusted with precious stones. Medieval serfs found a heaven designed to please the powerful ruling class somewhat disturbing. In contrast, the elucidation presented a heaven of lush meadows, fragrant flowers, and inde­scribable beauty. This realm of childlike innocence bereft of shame and class distinction was enthusiastically embraced by the poor, and it remains a favored depiction of heaven. 

Paradise, The Last Judgment (detail), Fra Angelico, tempera on panel, 1425, Museum of San Marco

The decoration of marginalia often reflected the lush ornament of church interiors. Accordingly, Falize based his diamond medallions on patera, circular botanical ornaments ubiquitous in Byzantine Churches. Artists adapted the floriography (language of flowers) of Classical antiquity to the needs of Christianity. While literacy rates slowly rose, the power of the visual metaphor was not to be underestimated. 

Middle: Fragment of Roman frieze enrichment: a patera with a floral centre, Luna marble, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, Right: Design for a patera to be executed in plasterwork: full sized detail, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1700, Royal Institute of British Architects

Using the simple bezel-set mine-cut diamond, Falize formed six distinct species of blossoms (narcissus, gustavia, dianthus, briar rose, clematis, and daisy). Each flower and branch had a different floriographic meaning:

To create his brilliant polychromatic color palette, Falize employed the technique of sur paillons. The first examples of the sur paillons technique emerged in the early 1870s when the brothers Alexis and Lucien Falize worked closely together. The sur paillons technique involved layering translucent enamel over tiny fragments of gold, introducing a shimmering quality to their jewelry and achieving a unique warmth and richness of color. 

The reverse of the bracelet is Cloisonné enameled in opaque sky blue. Falize’s cloisonne enamel technique was inspired by the Japanese and Chinese vases displayed at the 1867 World’s Fair. Each chased gold medallion on the bracelet’s interior corresponds to its exterior diamond motif, with a unique sepal and stem. Between each medallion, Falize placed a sur paillons ivy branch with red holly berries. Ivy, as a symbol in illuminated manuscripts represented life, eternity – even immortality. 

 Nineteenth-century French interest in Medieval manuscripts filtered down into the domain of bourgeois women. Illuminated borders based on Falize’s bracelet designs were published in two periodicals,  L'Enlumineur (1889-1900) and Le Coloriste enlumineur (1893-1898). The magazines encouraged female amateurs not only to decorate their homes with reproductions of medieval manuscripts, but to create their own and, thus, to revive an art form closely associated with aristocratic culture. The art of the Middle Ages came to embody an anti-thesis to the malaise of the Modern Age and, by the end of the nineteenth century, to the particular conflicts and failures of the Third Republic.

Le Coloriste enlumineur : journal d'enseignement du dessin, de la miniature, des émaux, de l'aquarelle, de la peinture sur verre, sur soie, etc.. : à l'usage des amateurs et professionnels, Paris, 1893, BNF

This masterpiece, instantly identifiable as the skilled, intellectual work of Lucien Falize and his collaborators, rewards hours of study and admiration for the intricacy and richness of its glowing enamels, gold work, and ideas.


Previous article Meet the Unsung Hero of Tiffany: Donald Claflin
Next article The Buyers’ Guide to Noble Stones