School of Bernard Palissy (French, 15101589)
Made in France
Lead–glazed earthenware; H. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm), W. 15 1/2 in. (39.4 cm), D. 2 13/16 in. (7.1 cm)
Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953 (53.225.52)
The sixteenth century was marked by a scientific interest in natural phenomena. New worlds had been discovered, occupied by animals and human beings never before seen in Europe. Museums of curiosities abounded, and self-styled naturalists, such as Cosimo de' Medici, gilded armadillos from the Americas and placed them on pillars in their palaces. Native Indians of the Americas were toured round the courts of Europe, and the taste for the exotic flourished. It was in this atmosphere that the talented French potter Bernard Palissy began practicing his trade, using a white clay body with delicately nuanced colored glazes. An enthusiastic natural scientist, Palissy used local fish, plants, and reptilesmaking casts of actual specimens for use in his modelingto develop what he called "rustic pottery." He produced his rustic ware in abundance, and made a grotto (now destroyed) in the garden of the Tuileries palace for the queen, Catherine de' Médicis. This oval dish, in the manner of Palissy, is in the shape of a pond surrounded by plant life. Perched on the plate are fish, frogs, a twisting snake, a lizard, a water beetle, crayfish, and a variety of shellfish.