History of Limoges Boxes

The area of Limoges in central France has an ancient history, much of which is lost in the mists of time.  We know that the city proper was founded as Augustoritum in approximately 10 B.C., part of a regional reorganization by the emperor Augustus.  The Roman city included a theater, a forum, and amphitheater.  There were temples dedicated to Venus, Diana, Minerva and Jupiter in the area that is now near a modern cathedral.  It was an important city in the imperial age and the capital of Gaul. 

In c. 251 A.D., Pope Fabian sent seven bishops to spread the gospel throughout Gaul.  Bishop Martial was sent to Limoges.  Bishop Martial was buried just outside the Roman city and his tomb became an important pilgrimage site.  The site became the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Martial in the 9th century, and was considered one of the greatest pilgrimage churches of Western Christianity, housing a library that was among the greatest in all of Europe.  The presence of the abbey and library led to the development of Limoges as a flourishing artistic centre throughout medieval times.


During the 17th century, the first French source of kaolin, a white clay material similar to that used to make highly prized Chinese porcelain, was discovered at Saint-Yrieix, near Limoges.  The discovery of kaolin in France made possible the manufacture of hard-paste porcelain, a material far superior in strength and longevity than the soft-paste porcelain that was previously possible. 

Throughout the 18th century, hinged boxes became increasingly popular, containing everything from jewelry to tobacco.  Elegant ladies and gentlemen were enchanted by the detailed decorations that the artists of Limoges produced.  Each box was hand painted and included an element of whimsy that delighted and enchanted everyone.  Madame de Pompadour was an early collector, among others.  Louis XVI purchased the first factory manufacturing the hard-paste porcelain just before the revolution, in 1784.  After the French Revolution, private factories producing the white porcelain began to emerge.  Today, there are a number of factories producing the famous Limoges Porcelain.

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