Ceramic Nature

Hanna Rose Shell

in Materials and Expertise in Early Modern Europe

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780226439686
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226439709 | DOI:
Ceramic Nature

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Bernard Palissy was a sixteenth-century ceramicist, natural historian, philosophizing experimenter, and public lecturer who, as a trained craftsman, produced and sold beautiful ceramics while seeking to explore nature by molding objects out of clay. Palissy's rustic earthenware plates, highly valued by museums and collectors today and widely imitated in the nineteenth century, became marketable commodities in the sixteenth century. In addition to his ceramics, Palissy is also known today for his writings on geology and agriculture, including his Discours Admirables (1580). His earthenware productions—which served as expressive embodiments of his innovative, and sometimes controversial, theories about natural history—reflected his ideas about three phenomena: coloration, generation, and fossilization in nature. This article explores Palissy's work with clay and how it was connected to his lifelong study of coloration, generation, and fossilization in nature. It also looks at Palissy's life-casting technique as a strategy for “harnessing” nature.

Keywords: Bernard Palissy; ceramics; clay; earthenware; natural history; coloration; generation; fossilization; nature; life-casting

Chapter.  7900 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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