Bernard Palissy

Datesabout 1510 - 1590
RolesArtist, Author

A man of many interests and talents though with no formal training, Bernard Palissy became a scientist, land-surveyor, religious reformer, garden designer, glassblower, painter, chemist, geologist, philosopher, and writer, as well as a ceramist. A devout and outspoken Huguenot, he was imprisoned for his religious beliefs and for his involvement in the Protestant riots of the first of the Wars of Religion. It was only with the help of his influential Catholic patron, Anne de Montmorency, that he obtained amnesty. Catherine de'Medici, the French queen, later acted as his protector, commissioning Palissy to build a private grotto for her at the garden of the Tuileries palace.

Palissy produced his designs by attaching casts of dead lizards, snakes, and shellfish to traditional ceramic forms such as basins, ewers, and plates. He then painted these wares in blue, green, purple, and brown, and glazed them with runny lead-based glaze to increase their watery realism.

Beginning in 1575, Palissy gave public lectures in Paris on natural history which, when published as Discours admirables(Admirable Discourses), became extremely popular and revealed him as both a writer and experimental pioneer. In 1588, as the struggle against the Protestants grew, Palissy was again imprisoned. He died two years later of "starvation and maltreatment."