Bernard Palissy (1510-1590)

This earthenware crockery artist remained loyal to the Reformed faith and paid for it with his life.

An avid researcher

  • Bernard Palissy (1510-1590)
    Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) © S.H.P.F.
  • Email de Bernard Palissy
    Email de Bernard Palissy © Musée huguenot de Badkarlshafen
  • Lézard en émail de Bernard Palissy
    Enamel lizard by Bernard Palissy © Collection privée

He was born in Lacapelle-Biron near Agen around 1510. He travelled and then settled in Saintes. At first he was a glassmaker and then dedicated the next sixteen years of his life to the rediscovery of enamelled earthenware. Contrary to what was believed, he did not burn his furniture. However, he readily gave away the wooden frame which supported the grapevine in his backyard. Being one of these curious minds typical of the Renaissance, he put experience above theory. He was a chemist, a geologist and an alchemist.

He turned to the Reformation in 1546. In 1555, he followed Hamelin as the leader of a small reformed community in Saintonge ; this led to his arrest and imprisonment in Bordeaux. Catherine De Medicis protected him and gave him the responsibility of improving the Tuileries Gardens and of building a rudimentary grotto there. He was given the title of “inventor of the king’s rustic figurines”.

In 1563, he was arrested under the charge of heresy. In 1572, he escaped the Saint Bartholomew massacre and took refuge in Sedan. In 1579, he came back to Paris and gave a public lecture about his research and observations. In 1587, after the edict of Nemours, he was obliged to go into hiding but fell into the hands of the League and, refusing to abjure, was imprisoned in the Bastille prison where he died in 1590. His body was thrown to the dogs.

Enamelled earthenware

  • Maison natale de Bernard Palissy à Saint-Avit (47)
    Bernard Palissy's birth home in Saint-Avit (47) © Hélène Guicharnaud
  • Plat de Palissy
    Dish by Palissy © S.H.P.F.

Bernard Palissy created potteries decorated with raised vegetal, animal or arabesque patterns. These are on display in a number of museums, among which the Louvre. Some pieces of his pottery and the remnants of his workshop were discovered by chance in the XIXth century and, later on, in the 1980s, when excavations began with the building of the Grand Louvre.

He left behind such scientific works as “Wonderful conversations of natural and artificial fountains of the earth” (Paris, Martin Le Jeune, 1580).

Bernard Palissy’s quote : “I have not had any other book than the earth and the sky ; a beautiful book known to all and available to all to read”.


  • Books
    • Association des Amis d'Agrippa d'Aubigné, , Albineana, 1992, Volume 1
    • AUDIAT, Louis, Bernard Palissy, études sur sa vie et ses travaux, Didier, Paris, 1868, Volume 1
    • BOUDON-DUANER, Marguerite, Bernard Palissy, le potier du roi, La Cause, Paris, 1989
    • GASCAR, Pierre, Les secrets de Maître Bernard : Bernard Palissy et son temps, Gallimard, Paris, 1980, Volume 1
    • GIBBON, Alain, Céramiques de Bernard Palissy, Librairie Séguier, Paris, 1986, Volume 1
    • LESTRINGANT, Frank, (édité par), , actes du Colloque Bernard Palissy, Journées d'études, Éditions Inter-Universitaires Amis d'Agrippa d'Aubigné, 1992
    • NICOLLE, Jacques, , Seghers, Paris, 1966, Volume 1
    • PALISSY, Bernard, Oeuvres complètes, Sous la direction de Marie-Madeleine Fragonard, Honoré Champion, Paris, 2010, Volume 1

Associated notes

Notes to be discovered