|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
Collecting Old Continental Pottery
Henri Deux Ware, Etc.
Paris And Its Environs
Glazed Pottery Of France
Stoneware Of Germany
German And Other Guilds
SWEDEN, DENMARK, SWITZERLAND:
Stockholm, Rorstrand, and Marieberg
Delft: The Old Signs Of The Potters
Majolica And Luca Della Robia
Naples, Rimini, Monte Feltro, And Forli
Siena, Monte Lupo, And Pisa
Fabriano, Viterbo, Rome
Venice, Treviso, Bassano, Milan, Etc.
PERSIA AND DAMASCUS:
Persia And Damascus
Persian And Other Tiles
Rhodes, Asiatic Turkey, Etc.
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Palissy tore up the floors, broke up the chairs and tables, and burnt every bit of fuel he could find, before there came forth from his furnace the white enamel-the long-sought secret-which brought him fame and fortune, after he and his family had been reduced to the direst poverty due to his neglect of his work as a glass-painter whilst devoting himself entirely to his discovery. The story is romantic, but we will leave it: he succeeded at last, amidst innumerable difficulties. That must be said in his praise, as indeed it is his justification. The romance yields to a few simple facts: he was a great potter and chemist, one of the great masters in industrial art, and he professed the reformed religion. His variegated enamels are diversified considerably. Bernard Palissy was born at Agen on the Garonne, just eighty miles from Bordeaux, about 1509. In his native town he learned the art of glass-painting, a profession which he practised at Saintes, a town situated to the north of Bordeaux, nearly seventy miles distant. Here, at Saintes, he resided in 1540, shortly after his marriage, when his wanderings through France and Germany ceased, and he settled down to earnest work. His own writings tell us about his life and his many trials, which began shortly after his arrival at Saintes, where some one showed him " an earthen cup, enamelled with much beauty," which was the cause of all his troubles and the inspiration of all his success which resulted after seventeen years of effort.
When Francois I. of France died, in 1547, there was no little enamelled earthenware made in that country, and imported Italian majolica was very rare and costly. The Portuguese had only just begun to bring Chinese porcelain from their new settlement at Macao, their small island possession at the mouth of the Canton River. We do not know the origin of the " earthen cup " which fascinated Palissy. He omits that in his book "L'Art de Terre," but he states one thing clearly : he was told that the white enamel was the basis of all the others. During many long years he never swerved from this quest, and when he found his first partial success, which he describes as "tolerably well," he found, too, new energy and new enthusiasm to carry on further experiments, until his heart's desire was accomplished. Honours came to him. Further honours were in store, but on the horizon the signs of a coming storm could be detected, portending religious persecution and that dreadful tragedy, the massacre of the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day, 1572. Palissy was a heretic: he had to quit Saintes for Rochelle, and afterwards Rochelle for Paris, where fortunately he obtained the protection of the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency, whose influence sheltered him.
That nobleman secured for him an appointment from Catherine de' itledici, wherein Palissy was styled l'inventeur des rustiques fegulines du Roy et de la Royne mare. In Paris he delivered a course of lectures on scientific subjects, which were published in 1580. His early studies in geology, natural history, and philosophy assured his position as a scientist, but if he had not been specially protected by Catherine de' Medici, solely because of his fame as the Royal potter, he would have been killed in the massacre of the Huguenots. In 1585, under Henry Ill., he was thrown into the Bastille on a charge of heresy, where he died four years later. His portrait, preserved in the Hotel de Cluny, shows the master richly dressed in silk ornamented with gold, so that we know something about the honours which came to him.
The original works of Palissy, especially of the purely ornamental class, have become exceedingly rare, and they are much in demand, regardless of price: The persistence with which they are imitated in recent days shows the favour of which they are the object, but the master had some descendants who continuing the fabrique after his death, at first maintained his high standard of production, so that their work may be confounded with his, although they scarcely present that perfection for which he was so justly famous. These are the qualities which distinguish pieces from his hand: a sharpness and clearness of execution; a perfect adhesion of the colours, applied with the utmost precision; a ringing strength and firmness in the ware itself; and a wonderful fluidity and smoothness in the glaze. Whether we consider the rustic pieces, those with subjects in relief, or those decorated with purely ornamental designs, alike they command our admiration. Beautiful dishes with a mottled glaze as harmonious as vigorous, with reptiles, shells, and fishes, without doubt modelled after nature; charming baskets with masks and wreaths, where the plastic artist has seized every opportunity to display his talent-these reveal Palissy at his best, original, precise, unsurpassed.
M. de Lamartine, the great French author, has rendered a vivid testimony to his eminent compatriot, who has been called " the patriarch of the workshop," showing how to exalt and ennoble any business, however trivial, which has labour for its means, progress and beauty for its motive, and success for its end. Lamartine's eulogy adopts another form which is as eloquent as it was deserved :
"Bernard de Palissy is the most perfect model of the workman. It is by his example, rather than by his works, that he has exercised an influence on civilisation, and that he has deserved a place to himself amongst the men who have ennobled humanity. Though he had remained unknown and listless, making tiles in his father's pottery; though he had never purified, moulded, or enamelled his handful of clay; though his living groups, his crawling reptiles, his slimy snails, his slippery frogs, his lively lizards, and his damp herbs and dripping mosses had never adorned those dishes, ewers, and salt-cellars-those quaint and elaborate ornaments of the tables and cupboards of the sixteenth century; it is true nothing would have been wanting to the art of Phidias or of Michael Angelo-to the porcelain of Sevres, of China, of Florence, or Japan: but we should not have had his life for the operative to admire and imitate."