Plat au serpent Bernard Palissy,
Terre vernissée France Vers 1560 L. 53 cm ECL 1142
Bernard Palissy was a French Huguenot potter, hydraulics engineer and craftsman, famous for having struggled for sixteen years to imitate Chinese porcelain.
His work attracted attention locally when, in 1548, the constable de Montmorency. Montmorency protected the potter and found him employment in decorating the Château d’Écouen with his glazed terra-cottas . The patronage of such an influential noble soon brought Palissy into fame at the French court. Although Palissy was Protestant, these nobles protected him from the ordinances of the parliament of Bordeaux, which, in 1562, seized the property of all the Protestants in this district. Palissy’s workshops and kilns were destroyed, but he himself was saved, and, by the interposition of the all-powerful constable, he was appointed inventor of rustic pottery to the king and the queen-mother.
Around 1563, under royal protection, he was allowed to establish a fresh pottery works in Paris in the vicinity of the royal palace of the Louvre. The site of his kilns indeed became afterwards a portion of the Tuileries Garden. For about twenty-five years from this date Palissy lived and worked in Paris. He appears to have been a personal favorite of Catherine de’ Medici, and of her sons, in spite of his Protestantism.
Working for the court, his productions passed through many phases, for besides continuing his rustic figurines he made a large number of dishes and plaques ornamented with scriptural or mythological subjects in relief, and in many cases he appears to have made reproductions of the pewter dishes of Francois Briot and other metal workers of the period. During this period he gave several series of public lectures on natural history, the entrance fee being one crown, a large fee for those days. His ideas of springs and underground waters were published in his Discours admirables, de la nature des eaux et fontaines, tant naturelles qu’artificielles, des metaux, des sels et salines, des pierres, des terres, du feu et des maux (Paris, 1580). He was one of the first Europeans to enunciate the correct theory of the origin of fossils and his practical application of Alexandrian theoretical works on hydraulics to the social issue of delivering public water to cities, were far in advance of the general knowledge of his time.