gold, was once believed to have been made by the librarian Bernard, and his assistant Charpentier, for their patroness Helène de Hangest about 1529 at her château at Oiron, near Thouars.
Fig. 48.—Tazza of Oiron pottery. (Louvre.)
Oiron Potter’s mark.
A few years ago this theory was discarded in favour of one which assigned them to some unknown potter of St Porchaire in the same region; but even of this theory there is insufficient proof, and we are left in doubt both as to the maker and the place of origin. All we know is that the ware dates from the reign of Henry II., and that it was probably made somewhere near Oiron, as most of the specimens have been found in that district. The work is sui generis, for it had no direct ancestry, neither did it leave any mark on contemporary French pottery. Sixty-five pieces of the ware (see fig. 48) are known to be in museums and private collections; the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert Museum have the best collections of their kinds, but the Rothschilds still hold the greater number of examples. The ware is fashioned in a simple whitish pipeclay, and ornamented with interlacing strap-work patterns, typical of the period, inlaid in yellow, buff or dark-brown clay. The forms are generally graceful, but some examples are over-elaborate and overloaded with modelled ornament. The pieces were designed to serve as candlesticks, salt-cellars, tazzas, ewers, holy-water pots and dishes. After the vessels had been “thrown” and “turned” to a perfect shape, metal tools, such as were used by the bookbinders and casemakers of that day, were pressed into the clay, so as to form sunk cells of ornamental tooling. These cells were carefully filled with finely-prepared slips of other clays, that would burn yellow, buff or dark-brown; and when the whole was dry the piece was carefully smoothed again, and moulded reliefs were attached, or touches of colour were applied. After being fired the ware was glazed, apparently with the ordinary lead glaze of the time carefully prepared and fired again. At a later period the ornament was not inlaid in this elaborate manner, but was simply painted, as indeed it might all have been so far as decorative effect is concerned.
Palissy Ware.—Bernard Palissy was a genius of original talent, but, at the hands of his literary admirers, he has gained a legendary rank as one of the great potters of the world which his pottery does not warrant. He is supposed to have spent sixteen years in the search for the white enamel which was being used all the time in Italy and Spain—probably he was searching for the mystery of Chinese porcelain—and when he settled down to make the “Palissy ware,” he did nothing more than carry to perfection the methods of the village pot-makers of his own district. On a hard-fired red clay he disposed groups of moulded plants, shells, fish and reptiles, painted them with crude green, brown and yellow colours, and glazed the whole with a well-prepared lead glaze. His style soon had numerous imitators, like A. Cléricy and B. de Blémont, who executed works quite as good as those of their master; but their works also vanished and left no permanent impression on the general trend of French pottery.
Meantime Italian, and, it may be, Spanish potters strayed over the French border and attempted to introduce the manufacture of their tin-enamelled wares; for we know of the works of Gambin and Tardessir of Faenza, established at Lyons about 1556; of Sigalon at Nîmes in 1548; of Jehan Ferro at Nantes about 1580, and other sporadic efforts. The needed impetus came, however, when the Mantuan duke, Louis de Gonzague, became duke of Nevers in 1565; and we find Italian majolists, working under princely patronage, planting their decadent art in the centre of France. The first efforts met with little success until, with the appearance of the Conrades from Savona, who were domiciled in Nevers in 1602, we get the genuine ware of Nevers. Naturally the first productions, whether of the Conrades or their predecessors, were in the style of the debased majolica of Savona, but the body and glaze of the ware is harder, the colours are not so rich, and the execution is less spirited. The first departure from Italian traditions is seen in the ware of the so-called “Persian style” of Nevers—probably adopted from contemporary work in Limoges enamels on metal—where conventional and fanciful designs of flowers and foliage, birds, animals or figures were thickly raised in white enamel on a ground of bright, intense cobalt-blue glaze. After the middle of the 17th century the Italian style of design appears to have been entirely replaced by pseudo-oriental patterns painted in blue or in polychrome, but really imitated from the “Delft” copies of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. When Rouen and Moustiers became famous for their distinctive wares Nevers copied their designs also, and on a gradually descending scale the manufacture continued to the end of the 18th century, when France was flooded with the rude Faiences patriotiques from this centre.
Fig. 49.—Dish of Rouen enamelled pottery, painted in blues and deep red.
The genuine French tin-enamelled ware, freed from the traces of Italian influence, first developed itself at Rouen under the famous Poterats in the later part of the 17th century. A new scheme of ornamentation was gradually evolved in the daintily-designed scalloped and radiating patterns adapted from oriental fabrics, lace and needlework, and from the ornamental devices of contemporary printers. These designs, having been skilfully drawn on the pieces, were filled in with bright blue, strong yellow, light green, or a bright bricky-red in palpable relief, applied as flat washes or in fine lines; and the result was a gay and sparkling ware much superior in decorative value to the later Italian majolicas (see fig. 49). So successful was this Rouen ware that rival factories were quickly started at Saint Cloud, Sinceny,
- See B. Fillon, Les Faiences d’Oiron (1862).
- See E. Bonaffe, Les Faiences de Saint-Porchaire (1898).