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Dish

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1565-1585 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Palissy, Bernard, born 1510 - died 1590 (possibly, maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Earthenware with coloured glazes

  • Museum number:

    5476-1859

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 62, case 15

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Bernard Palissy was the most innovative and original ceramist of the French Renaissance. A man of multiple talents and interests, he was at once a favourite of the Catholic royal family and nobility of France, and an ardent Protestant who was often punished for his beliefs.
Trained as a glass painter, with a keen interest in the natural world and geology, he published serious studies of natural history and lively accounts of the long struggle and desperate financial straits to which he was driven to perfect the modeling, firing and glazing of his ceramics. Palissy studied the chemistry of glazes and by 1567 had set up a kiln on the grounds of the Palais des Tuileries in Paris for which he was commissioned to make a grotte rustique by Catherine de' Medici, daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of Urbino. It was never completed.

Palissy is best known for his rustique figulines : basins, ewers and dishes decorated with plants and animals skillfully cast from life and vividly coloured glazes. The life casting of animals and plants was already practiced by some contemporary goldsmiths but Palissy was the first to apply the process to ceramics. Having perfected his first rustic basin around 1555, Palissy was presented to Henri II, who praised and purchased it. Such elevated patronage confirms the high status of Palissy's ceramics, which reflect the growing interest of the period in practical knowledge and empirical understanding of the natural world, its curiosities and phenomena.

Physical description

Earthenware dish with distinct decorations in relief of reptiles, plants and shells coloured with bright glazes.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1565-1585 (made)

Artist/maker

Palissy, Bernard, born 1510 - died 1590 (possibly, maker)

Materials and Techniques

Earthenware with coloured glazes

Marks and inscriptions

Dept.S&A Museum

Dimensions

Length: 40.6 cm, Width: 53.3 cm, Height: 4 cm, Weight: 2.76 kg

Object history note

Possibly made by Bernard Palissy or his sons Nicolas and Mathurin, 1565-85, or possibly 17th century. A recent French doctoral thesis compared moulds found on the site of Palissy's workshop and the casts applied to the dish, and argued that the dish was by a follower of Palissy. See Perrin (2002).

Historical significance: Palissy is best known for his rustique figulines : basins, ewers and dishes decorated with plants and animals skillfully cast from life and vividly coloured glazes. The life casting of animals and plants was already practiced by some contemporary goldsmiths but Palissy was the first to apply the process to ceramics. Having perfected his first rustic basin around 1555, Palissy was presented to Henri II, who praised and purchased it. Such elevated patronage confirms the high status of Palissy's ceramics, which reflect the growing interest of the period in practical knowledge and empirical understanding of the natural world, its curiosities and phenomena.

Historical context note

Bernard Palissy was the most innovative and original ceramist of the French Renaissance. A man of multiple talents and interests, he was at once a favourite of the Catholic royal family and nobility of France, and an ardent Protestant who was often punished for his beliefs.
Trained as a glass painter, with a keen interest in the natural world and geology, he published serious studies of natural history and lively accounts of the long struggle and desperate financial straits to which he was driven to perfect the modeling, firing and glazing of his ceramics. Palissy studied the chemistry of glazes and by 1567 had set up a kiln on the grounds of the Palais des Tuileries in Paris for which he was commissioned to make a grotte rustique by Catherine de' Medici, daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of Urbino. It was never completed.

Descriptive line

Possibly made by Bernard Palissy, Dish, earthenware with coloured glazes, 1565-85, or possibly 17th century, France.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
Trained as a glass painter, Bernard Palissy studied the chemistry of glazes and by 1565 had set up a kiln on the grounds of the Palais des Tuileries in Paris for which he was commissioned to make a grotte rustique by Catherine de' Medici, daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, duke of Urbino. Catherine, who became queen consort to Henry II of France in 1533, gained real power in 1560 when she was named regent for her second son, Charles IX, who ascended the throne as a ten-year-old. During the 1850s and over the next three decades, excavations around the Louvre and Tuileries gardens revealed parts of the grotte rustique and also a tile-maker's kiln then thought to be Palissy's, along with fragments of his wares. This contributed further to the rapidly increasing cult status of the artist and the value of the wares associated with him.
This dramatic dish, with its lush decoration of reptiles, plants, and shells characteristic of Palissy ware, was bought by the Museum as part of the Jules Soulages collection in 1859 for £60. Palissy wares in the Soulages collection were described as "a series of the highest aesthetic value. . . . [A]ccess to such examples must improve the taste of the people." By the late 1850s a new school of potters imitating Palissy was flourishing, the artist's complete writings had been reprinted, and the historian Lamartine considered Palissy of such heroic achievement as to link his name with those of Joan of Arc, Homer, and Gutenberg.
At South Kensington, Palissy was accorded his own window in the Ceramics Gallery, in company with Luca della Robbia and Josiah Wedgwood. By 1900 the Museum had acquired over fifty ceramics by "Palissy or school of . . . ," paying a record sum of £1,102 10s. for one piece in the 1880s. These were among the "choice collection of Palissy ware" that, together with the "specimens of rare ‘Henri-Deux'" (or Saint-Porchaire) ware (cat. 72), were constantly mentioned in guidebook accounts of the day. It is therefore not surprising that this object is the most prominent piece shown in a Punch cartoon of visitors looking at a Museum display in 1869 (see fig. 28).
Although they retained their importance within the context of ceramics study and display, Palissy wares were out of fashion from the turn of the century until the 1960s, and only then were they introduced into the Primary Galleries. Around the same date, Palissy's work was placed within a wider cultural framework in John Shearman's Mannerism of 1967, where the artist's "wonderfully capricious dishes" were seen as combining "the imaginative fecundity of an artist with the resource of a practical technologist."

Lit. Conway, 1875, p. 500; Honey, 1952; Reitlinger, 1963, pp. 119, 253; Amico, 1987; Dufay, 1987; Lecocq, 1987; Britton, 1991, pp. 169-76

JENNIFER H. OPIE/MALCOLM BAKER
Perrin, Isabèlle. Les Techniques céramiques de Bernard Palissy. Doctoral thesis, Université de Paris IV - Sorbonne, U.F.R.d'Archéologie - Histoire de l'Art, 2 vols (Paris: 2002).
Relevant sections of thesis yet to be read: unavailable in Museum (22.03.2010).

Exhibition History

Precious: Objects and Changing Values (The Millennium Galleries, Sheffield 02/04/2001-24/06/2001)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)

Materials

Earthenware; Glaze

Techniques

Glazing; Firing; Modelling (forming)

Subjects depicted

Foliage; Fish; Shell; Snake; Water; Oak leaf; Ferns; Lizard; Lobster; Frog (amphibian)

Categories

Ceramics; Earthenware; Figures & Decorative ceramics

Collection code

CER

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Qr_O85883
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