PALISSY, Bernard

PALISSY, Bernard
(c. 1510-1590)
As a ceramic artist, Bernard Palissy's technical experimentation pushed the medium beyond its traditional practice. His unique inventions gained him pa­tronage at the highest level, and his style was widely imitated. An autodidact amateur philosopher and Huguenot, he wrote books advocating his position on religion and science.
Palissy's early life is not well documented. Born in the Agenais, he spent the period before 1536 traveling in southwest France, working as an artisan and land surveyor. Settling in Saintes on the Charente River, Palissy explored the illusionistic possibilities of ceramic glazes to imitate the Italian majolica prized in France and minerals like jasper. He combined these innovations with his observation of nature, made while surveying, to create a new form of pottery he called rustiques figulines: basins decorated with naturalistic plants, shells, and aquatic animals. These works attracted patronage from, among others, the influential Anne de Montmorency, constable of France.
Palissy's adherence to Protestantism meant that he was harassed. When Cath­olic forces sacked Saintes in 1562, Palissy was eventually imprisoned and his studio devastated. His influential patrons obtained his release and a royal ap­pointment. In 1563 Palissy published his Recepte veritable, a Protestant polemic contained within a discussion of garden design. Despite this daring move, Cath­erine de' Medici* brought him to Paris to design a grotto, comprised of his remarkable naturalistic glazed terracotta forms, for her new Tuileries Palace.
After the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Palissy went to Sedan, a Prot­estant haven, where he set up his "Little Academy" in 1575. Here Palissy com­posed his Discours admirable, a dialogue in which Practice is pitted against Theory, the former always winning the points. In 1587 renewed prosecution resulted in his arrest, and he died in the Bastille.
Palissy's distinctive ceramic style continued to be imitated through the nine­teenth century. As a self-taught polymath without a classical education, he was pragmatic: his experiments with ceramics and his written reflections on nature were both based on practice, not theory.
L. N. Amico, Bernard Palissy: In Search of Earthly Paradise, 1996.
J. McNab, "Bernard Palissy," in The Dictionary ofArt, 23:849-50.
B. Palissy, Recepte veritable, 1563.
Sheila ffolliott

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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