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”, (“Discours admirable de la nature des eaux et fontaines de la terre, tant naturelles qu’artificielles”) (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”

(“Je n’ai point eu d’autre livre que le ciel et la terre, lequel est connu de tous et est donné à tous de connaître et lire ce beau livre”).

Bernard Palissy, homme de la Renaissance

  • Email de Bernad Palissy
    Email de Bernad Palissy © Musée huguenot de Badkarlshafen

Non seulement il fut le plus grand potier du XVIe siècle, mais il fut aussi savant, philosophe et homme de science.

Sa Recepte véritable pour laquelle tous les hommes de France pourront apprendre à multiplier leur trésor est le premier ouvrage de vulgarisation scientifique en langue française. Il s’agit d’une recherche savante en agronomie, éditée en 1563 ou 1564 à La Rochelle.

Ses conférences sur l’histoire naturelle sont éditées en 1580 : Discours admirables de la Nature, des eaux tant naturelles qu’artificielles, des métaux, des sels, des salines, des pierres du feu et des émaux.

Dans ses Discours, il entreprend de faire connaître ses thèses scientifiques « selon la mesure qu’il a plu à Dieu de me faire entendre, afin de profiter à la postérité ».

Prenant ses distances par rapport aux alchimistes, il affirme la force de l’observation de préférence à la théorisation : « Je n’ai point eu d’autre livre que le ciel et la terre, lequel est connu de tous et est donné à tous de connaître et lire ce beau livre ».

La science telle qu’il la conçoit est fondamentalement basée sur la religion chrétienne : « Dieu est le Souverain Géométrien ».

Bibliography

  • Books
    • Association des Amis d'Agrippa d'Aubigné, Actes du Colloguqe Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) : L’écrivain, le réformé, le céramiste, 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), Bernard Palissy 1510-1590, l’écrivain, le réformé, le céramiste, Éditions Inter-Universitaires Amis d'Agrippa d'Aubigné, 1992
    • NICOLLE, Jacques, Bernad Palissy, l’homme à la recherche d’un secret, Seghers, Paris, 1966, Volume 1
    • PALISSY, Bernard, Oeuvres complètes, Honoré Champion, Paris, 2010, Volume 1

Associated notes

Notes to be discovered

a
d
v
e
r
t
i
s
i
n
g