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Hexagonal Salt: M.50-1904

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Hexagonal Salt


Maker: Nouailher, Colin (Probably)




Copper enamelled en grisaille and in turquoise-green, turquoise and mauve on a black ground and gilded

Hexagonal with straight sides, projecting upper and lower edges, and a concave central depression in the top and base. Copper, enamelled en grisaille on a black ground, and gilded; the top also enamelled in turquoise-green, and the base in turquoise, and pale mauve. The salt pan is decorated with a bust of a man in profile to right wearing a hat with a feather in it, and is inscribed "IE SVIS PARIS" (I am Paris) in gold surrounded by two gold circles. On the flat surround there are three pairs of cornucopia with foliated terminals, containing turquoise fruits. Round the outer edge is a gold line broken at regular intervals by five oblique strokes. In the depression in the base is a head of a woman in profile to left, wearing a turquoise frontlet, a snood, and a turquoise oval cabochon over her ear. The black ground is dotted with gold, and inscribed "LABELLE ELLENE" (Beautiful Helen) in gold within a gold circle. On the flat area there are three white roses and three pale mauve roses linked by stems bearing either two pairs of turquoise or two pairs of green leaves, and pairs of gold tendrils. Round the outer edge is a gold line broken at regular intervals by five oblique strokes. The sides are decorated with six figures flanked by rocks and small gold plants, each with a gold inscription above. From right to left:
Fortune stepping to the right, holding the staff of a billowing pennant in her right hand, and its tail in her left; inscribed "TOVT. FORTVNE/LE VA" with an orb between the LE and VA.
A jester steps to the left raising his right hand, and holding a jester's staff over his shoulder in his left; inscribed "IL SEMBLE AVVILART.ABVZ.QVE.LES. IEVLX/DAY MER SOYENT PERDVZ" (It seems to the old mistakenly that the games of love may be over, i.e. lost for ever or It seems to the old that enjoyment of the games of love may be lost through over indulgence).
An old woman in sixteenth century costume holding a walking stick in her left hand and placing her right held to her bosom; inscribed, "QVA(N)T.DVIEV.DAYMER. ME/SOVVIE(N)T.LA.LARME.AVXI.EVLVLX.ME VIEN.A 70 ANS" (When I remember the game of love a tear comes to my eyes at 70 years).
An old man in sixteenth century costume walking to the left, holding up his right hand and holding a walking stick in his left; inscribed "HELAS.IESVS.VR(A)I/DIEV:DE GRACE.E.IEV.D.YMER.FAICT.N.ENCORES A.80 .ANS (Alas, Jesus true God of Grace, I still like to do it at 80 years).
A middle aged woman, perhaps a nun, wearing sixteenth century costume, walking to the left, holding a gold rosary in her right hand and holding up her skirt in her left hand; inscribed "QVANT.ON.LE ME.PRE SANTE. IELE. PRENS.EN/ PACIANCE A. 40.ANS" . (When someone offers I take it patiently at 40 years).
An middle aged man in sixteenth century costume with a turquoise jewel on each sleeve opening, walking to the left leaning on a walking stick held in his right hand, and holding his left with its thumb tucked into his belt; inscribed "ET.MOY.TEL.QVE.IE.SVYs IL LE .FAIZ QVANT.IE.PV.A.50 ANS" (And me, such as I am, I do it when I can at 50 years).
On each of the angles there is a foliated spindle (?), and on the top of the projecting base a border of overlapping wavy lines forming a cable.


History note: Possibly Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill; sold, George Robins, Catalogue of the Classic Contents of Strawberry Hill Collected by Horace Walpole, 25 April 1842 and twenty-three following days (Sundays excepted), p. 127, 12th Day, lot 57, sold to Pratt for £13.13.0. (according to the Wallace Collection’s annotated catalogue). . . . Hollingworth Magniac, Colworth, Bedfordshire; his son, Charles Magniac; sold Christie’s, 2, 4-8 and 11-15 July 1892, Catalogue of the renowned collection of works of art chiefly formed by the late Hollingworth Magniac Esq. (known as the Colworth Collection), 4th day, 6 July, p. 102, lot 390, sold for £50.8.0 to Frank McClean, Tonbridge Wells.

Legal notes

Frank McClean Bequest

Measurements and weight

Height: 8 cm

Place(s) associated

  • Limoges ⪼ Haut Vienne ⪼ France

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1904) by McClean, Frank


16th Century, second quarter#
Circa 1540 CE - 1545 CE


The Fitzwilliam’s salt was attributed by Dalton tentatively to Colin Nouailher, a reasonable suggestion in view of the inscriptions, a feature of Colin Nouailher’s work, and accepted here. But there are a number of hexagona salts of this form which bear the initials PR for Pierre Reymond or his workshop, and are also linked to this one by the designs of the rose and cornucopia borders on the top and bottom.

The amorous message of this salt is related to the theme of the Ages of Man, which during the Middle Ages and Renaissance might be identified as three, four, seven, or twelve stages. The Ages of Man in decades was a late medieval development and was more common in the Low Countries and Germany. Normally the ages of life after forty would be shown as a gradual decline towards death, but the decoration here presents a more optimistic view because the middle aged and old people express views which indicate that their interest in love-making continues. The goddess Fortuna’s ability to make or marr lovers’ happiness by her fickle behaviour is mentioned frequently in French literature from the late 12th century onwards, and a jester or fool was often used in 15th and 16th century art as an indication of lust or folly. The jester's statement on the salt is ambiguous, according to the interpretation of the word 'abus'. It could be read as meaning that the old are mistaken in thinking that their ability to enjoy love-making is lost, or that the ability to love is lost through excessive indulgence in love-making, a view expressed in a well known late 12th century treatise 'De Amore' by Andreas Cappellanus. Possibly the head of Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, and that of Paris, who precipitated the Trojan War by abducting her, represent the prime of life, but their presence could also be a reminder that unbridled passion may lead to disaster.

There is an analogous polychrome salt in the Wallace Collection, which has similar figures and inscriptions with variant spellings but without the ages on the sides, and, on the top and bottom depressions respectively, profile busts of Pallas surrounded by cornupias, and Jupiter surrounded by stylized roses (III M 260). (1) It is inscribed, with the letter ‘N’ in gold suspended from a swag on the side of the old woman. Another salt in the Wallace (III M.261), dated 1542, is decorated in a similar manner, but with different heads and figures. The top and base are decorated respectively with Paris and Athena with cornucopia borders. One side is decorated with Cupid blindfold, one with Venus in her chariot, and the other four with a lady or a gentleman accompanied by an inscription. (See Documentation, Higgott, 2011) These salts suggest that the Fitzwilliam's may originally have had a pair which provideded the earlier Ages of Man or Love. The figures of the middle-aged man and woman are reminiscent of two lovers on a small plaque attributed to Colin Nouailher in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, (See Documentation Biron, 2011).

X-radiography of a hexagonal salt in the British Museum revealed that it was made in three parts. The top and bottom joined by wired, and the sides by a flap on one angle (see Documentation)

School or Style


People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Decoration composed of enamel ( white, turquoise-green, pale mauve, and black) gold
Plaque composed of copper
Across Points Width 10.9 cm
Across Flat Sides Width 10 cm

Inscription or legends present

  • Location: On salt pan
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On base
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription

Inscription present: an orb between the LE and VA

  • Location: On side decorated with Fortune
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On side decorated with jester
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On side with old woman with walking stick
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On side with old man with walking stick
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On side with middle aged woman holding rosary
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription
  • Location: On side with middle aged man
  • Method of creation: Painted in
  • Type: Inscription

Inscription present: part of a circular paper label with a black border

  • Text: 390’
  • Method of creation: Hand-written in pencil
  • Type: Label

Inscription present: a small rectangular paper label

  • Text: 512
  • Location: Stuck on top of the circular label
  • Method of creation: Printed in black
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Related exhibitions

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.50-1904
Primary reference Number: 139843
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 14 November 2023 Last processed: Thursday 7 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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