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Work Dish with "rustic figulines"

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

"Rustic" basin

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
Renaissance

Author(s):
Ducrot Brigitte

This long oval dish is an illustration of one of the most remarkable types of French glazed earthenware from the 16th century onward. Its surface is decorated with animals, shells, and plant motifs in relief, all harmoniously arranged and molded to imitate nature. Traditionally presented as a work of Bernard Palissy, the master of the form of ornamentation known as "rustic figulines," this dish is now thought to be a later work by scholars.

The vogue for "rustic figulines"

Like several works displayed in Room 30, this glazed earthenware dish is decorated with animals (fish, lizards, frogs, crayfish), shells, and plant motifs in high relief. Fauna and flora seem to come to life on the rocky surface painted in cobalt blue and engraved with wavy motifs suggestive of water. The high degree of precision in the anatomical details and the vigorous naturalism are the result of the artist's masterly technique of direct casting from nature and casting from master molds, and skill in using mottled glaze. These ornamental elements, called "rustic figulines," were created with particular care, and constitute an original aspect of the dialogue throughout the Renaissance between nature, a major source of inspiration, and its imitation in art.

The legendary figure of Bernard Palissy

The history of glazed earthenware in the French Renaissance is marked by the Saintonge potter Bernard Palissy (1510?-1590), around whom a legend developed. In addition to his substantial scientific contribution, this artist's and writer's name is associated with the creation of "rustic figulines," for which he received the official title of "Inventor of the King's Figulines." The artist applied this decorative style both to luxury tableware and the enameled grottoes commissioned from him by major personalities in the kingdom: Anne de Montmorency, constable of France, and later, in about 1565, Catherine de Médicis. The recent excavations of the site of the former Palais des Tuileries in the Louvre have revealed an enameler's kiln used to create the queen's grotto and which is thought to have been operated by Bernard Palissy. The amount of material found (molds, elements featuring animals) has updated our knowledge of the famous potter's technique.

Bernard Palissy and his successors

Long considered a work by Bernard Palissy, a recent theory has dated this dish to the period immediately following that of the master. Indeed, numerous emulators perpetuated the creation of "rustic figulines" long after Palissy's death. The large number of surviving dishes are an illustration of the persistence of this taste for artifice and fantasy. In the 19th century, the vogue for major historical figures led to the rediscovery of Bernard Palissy. Ceramists began to research the methods of their distant predecessor, while giving free rein to their imagination. Among them was Charles-Jean Avisseau, one of whose works is in the Louvre.

Bibliography

Ballot Marie-Juliette, La céramique française. Bernard Palissy et les fabriques du XVIe siècle, Editions Albert Morancé, 1924, p. 27, pl. 28.
Musée du Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen Age et Renaissance, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1994, p. 152.
Dassas Frédéric, La terre vernissée dite de Bernard Palissy, Musée du Louvre, 1995 (feuillets 6/31), ill.2.
Durand Jannic, Le Louvre : les objets d'art, Editions Scala, 1995, p. 70.
Les Collections du Louvre, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1999, p. 236.

Technical description

  • France (late 16th - early 17th century)

    "Rustic" basin

    C. 1565

    Paris? (France)

  • Glazed clay

    L. 53 cm; W. 40 cm

  • Former Edme Durand collection; acquired in 1825

    MR 2293

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Display case 2

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