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Oeuvres de Bernard Palissy (1777 edn)

Palissy's Oeuvres (1777 edm)

Michael McKimm features a treasure of the Society’s Rare Book collection

Oeuvres de Bernard Palissy, revues sur les exemplaires de la bibliothèque du Roi, Bernard Palissy, with notes by Barthélemy Faujas de Saint Fond and Nicolas Gobet (1777 edition)

Geoscientist 20.6 June 2010

Should you venture to the Wallace Collection in London, a visit to the basement floor is recommended, for there sits an exquisite earthenware basin with a dark blue glaze over which a snake slithers between water grasses, fish, lizards and frogs, and a generous scattering of shells and shellfish. It is a fine example of the ceramic art invented by Bernard Palissy (1510-1590), who used real plants and animals to make moulds, creating a look as close to nature as possible.

As you might expect, Palissy was keenly interested in geography and geology. His search for new ideas for his pottery in rivers, lakeshores and mountains led him to examine his landscape in the same way the Geological Society’s founders would centuries later. Perhaps the most famous section in Oeuvres de Palissy, presented to the Society by G.B. Greenough, is ‘L’Art de Terre’, which describes the stresses involved in mastering the art of firing clays. There are also, however, fascinating writings on metals and alchemy, salts, Natural History, and a chapter called ‘On Rocks’, in which he writes, ‘I have always comforted myself with the idea that science has no greater enemy than ignorance’.

Showcasing the genius of a Renaissance thinker on the merging of arts and natural sciences, this volume, conserved last year as part of the Sponsor-A-Book Appeal, is a highlight of the Society’s collection.
  • The Library operates a sponsorship scheme to help preserve and restore its rare books. For more information, contact Michael McKimm in the library, or see the Sponsor a Book page on the Society’s website.