Modeler: Possibly after a model by Guillaume Dupré (French, 1579–1640)
Date: model ca. 1607–8
Culture: French, Fontainebleau or Avon
Medium: Lead-glazed earthenware
Dimensions: Height: 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Credit Line: The Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection, Bequest of Emma A. Sheafer, 1973
Accession Number: 1974.356.303
This earthenware statuette of a wet nurse swaddling a large baby was popular throughout the seventeenth century and was copied in Chelsea porcelain in the eighteenth century. The figurine was probably created from a model by Guillaume Dupré, completed around 1608, and is evocative of the work of prolific ceramist Bernard Palissy.
By the end of the nineteenth century, many of the small statuettes that were once attributed to Palissy were reattributed to ceramists working at Fontainebleau and nearby Avon. Claude Berthélemy (ca. 1555–1626) is among the earliest names linked to a school of ceramists at Fontainebleau. Berthélémy settled there around 1580 and established a ceramics atelier under the patronage of Henri IV. Henri IV's son, the young dauphin Louis de Bourbon and future King Louis XIII, frequented Berthélémy's boutique between 1604 and 1608, and owned a large collection of figures and animals bought on his numerous visits. The court physician, Jean Héroard, recorded these visits in his journal, and described a pottery figure of a nurse given to the daughter of Madame de Montpensier by the dauphin on April 24, 1608. The Museum has four versions of a wet nurse holding a swaddled child (see also 17.190.2057, and two mid-eighteenth examples from the Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory, 64.101.419, and 2012.506), which is the composition probably referred to by Héroard. Héroard's records suggest that such famous figurative works as The Nurse, once universally regarded as a masterpiece by Palissy, were in fact made in the atelier of Berthélémy. The hypothesis that Berthélémy collaborated with the sculptor Guillaume Dupré at Fontainebleau continues to gain acceptance.