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Work "Temperance" Ewer Basin

Department of Decorative Arts: Renaissance

"Temperance" ewer stand

Decorative Arts

Ducrot Brigitte

The concentric pattern of alternating allegories and motifs on this dish draws on the popular decorative repertory of the Renaissance. The basin is named for the allegorical figure of Temperance, depicted in the center. Numerous examples were made, in earthenware, usually combined with a ewer. The basin is a fine example of sixteenth-century luxury French glazed pottery, in the style of the noted ceramicist Bernard Palissy.

The perpetuating of a tradition

During the Renaissance, ceramic production in Italy focused increasingly on tin-glazed majolica ware with painted decoration, while French factories continued to favor glazed earthenware. In this period of experimentation and innovation, sophisticated decorative techniques (stamping, modeling) were used, in the wake of the celebrated potter Bernard Palissy (circa 1510-89). The bold, bright colors obtained from metallic oxides were enhanced by the use of a lead-based glaze. Molds greatly facilitated reproduction, and identical pieces from the period may be seen in a number of different museums (e.g. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg). Palissy's work enjoyed renewed popularity in the nineteenth century, when the present model and other pieces were re-manufactured (e.g. Philadelphia Museum of Art).

Historiated decoration "à la française"

Divided into concentric circles, the composition is based on contrasting bands of relief decoration and smooth areas of plain colour. Motifs composed of terms, mascarons and arabesques alternate with figurative representations in oval cartouches. Starting in the center, these may be identified as Temperance, one of the four cardinal virtues in antique philosophy, surrounded by allegories of the four elements, over which Temperance must hold sway if their beneficial properties are to prevail. Around the flat rim, the seven Liberal Arts - Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric on one side, and Geometry, Arithmetic, Music and Astronomy on the other - are accompanied by Minerva, the goddess of Intelligence and the protectress of the Liberal Arts and Science.

Similarities between metalwork and ceramics

This basin follows the form and decorative schemes of large metal platters produced in the sixteenth century. The basin is in fact a more or less exact ceramic copy of a pewter basin and ewer by François Briot (1550-circa 1616) in the same showcase at the Louvre. The allegories derive from small engraved plates by Casper Enderlein (1560-1633), a goldsmith and pewterer in Nuremberg, at a time when Flemish influence was making an impact in France. This bowl epitomizes the close links between metalwork and ceramic production in the Renaissance period.


Ballot Marie-Juliette, Musée du Louvre, La Céramique française. Bernard Palissy et les fabriques du XVIe siècle, Paris, Éditions Albert Morancé, 1924, p. 30, pl. 36.

Louvre. Guide du visiteur. Les Objets d'art. Moyen-Age et Renaissance, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1994, pp. 153-154.

Dassas Frédéric, La Terre vernissée dite de Bernard Palissy, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1995, Feuillets du Louvre no. 6/31, ill. 4.

Technical description

  • France, atelier de Fontainebleau, dit d'Avon (?)

    "Temperance" ewer stand

  • Glazed clay

    Diam. 42 cm

  • Former collection

    N 193

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Bernard Palissy
    Room 521
    Display case 6

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