Short Survey in Renaissance Applied Arts

…(or the influence of the history of decorative arts in the Renaissance on the production of the Miroir aux Prêles). 

The lecture first places the pottery’s present production within the tradition of the different ceramic materials  that existed in the Renaissance. By means of examples, medieval lead-glazed potteries are introduced and the new tin-glazed earthenware are defined : Iznik, Hispano-Moorish wares and Italian majolica. Beauvaisis, Burgundy and Rhineland stoneware are of course illustrated, and a word is also said about Medici porcelain.


Then a study of different typical shapes of vessels is carried out. These shapes come from goldsmith work, glass-work, ceramics and pre-baroque ivory work. The prominent position of Nuremberg is underlined. For instance, the gadrooned dish was very current in the 15th century Ottoman Turkey as well as in Hispano-Moorish Valencia, and was broadly taken up in 16th century Italy. It was then called crespina – above on the left, a glass “a lattimo” example from the Louvre. Another oriental creation from the 15th century is the small roundel or tondino (above on the right), characterised by its large flat rim and its rather small hollow centre. Its larger translation in pewter gave the “a la cardinal” dish in the 17th century. German Renaissance footed drinking cups were provided with lids and were then called “Pokalen”.

A small grammar of the Renaissance decorative arts surveys and defines the different typical motifs and patterns then in use. Different examples illustrate the definitions of foliated scrolls, candelabra, both deeply rooted in the Middle Ages, the grotesques and strap-work that the Renaissance produced, or knot-work and Moresque designs of the Islamic origin.

For example, the Moresque reached Italy in the Quattrocento via Venice and Genoa that were then important cultural and trade turning points and came from Ottoman Turkey. They rapidly invaded all surfaces. They were taken up and reinterpreted by the time’s ornamentalists like Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (Orléans), Francisque Pellegrin (Fontainebleau; the five examples above), Virgil Solis (Nuremberg) or Peter Flötner (who worked in Nuremberg but published in Zurich; the two examples below). The importance of engravings is underlined in their proliferating role. These Moresque patterns often covered the armours of France’s kings and princes as well as the binding of 16th century beautiful books.
It is of course impossible to skip over Palissy’s production and the current it pertained to.

Often only known by the fact that he once burnt his own furniture to carry on the firing of some of his extraordinary ceramics (above), Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) was nevertheless a remarkable figure linked to the 16th century “Rustic” style. One often remembers about Palissy his whimsical character and one forgets he was a founder of palaeontology. If not minor, the Rustic style was anecdotal. It was subjected to an artistic intention that often proceeded by accumulations. It was a tribute to life in its most creeping and humid dimension, and was as much linked to the Princes’ new fashion for curiosity cabinets as to the humanist impetus of the learned towards what would then become the natural sciences. This European trend to use animals and vegetables cast after nature found other dazzling defenders in Wenzel Jamnitzer (1508-1585, a Nuremberg goldsmith, or Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600), a Flemish miniaturist illuminator.

The inlay of colour clay in western ceramics takes its origins in paving tiles as soon as the end of the 12th century (red clay/white clay, covered with lead glaze, three above examples). The technique was brought up to its highest level of refinement and delicacy in the 16th century in the so-called Saint-Porchaire ceramics (illustrations below), that comprise exceptional wares that were exclusively intended to princely presents. The decoration was then stamped with book-binding gilding irons.

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