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Palissy, Bernard

1. Dates
Born: Agen (southern France), c. 1510
Died: Paris, c. 1590
Dateinfo: Both Dates Uncertain
Lifespan: 80
2. Father
Occupation: Artisan
There is no precise information on his family background. Some biographers identify his father as a modest artisan, and I have decided to accept this.
There is general agreement that Palissy was born into a poor family, which lends vague support to the assertion that his father was a modest artisan.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He was trained in the manufacture and decoration of stained glass windows. After his apprenticeship, Palissy traveled throughout France. He was fascinated by the various soils and stones and immediately took up the study of chemistry. He studied chemistry in the labs of alchemists and pharmacists.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic (before 1546), Calvinist (after 1546)
He converted to Protestantism in about 1546. He was one of the first Huguenots in Saintes, and was much persecuted for his religion. He joined with other artists to form a reformed church. Although a warrant of arrest was issued as early as 1558 for this group of artists, Palissy was imprisoned in Bordeaux in 1562. He was released through the influence of the queen mother. In 1588, soon after religious warfare once more broke out in France, he was again imprisoned. He was taken to the Conciergerie, then transferred to the Bastille, where he died.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural History
He wrote two major books, Recepte veritable (1563), and Discours admirables (1580). The two books deal with an impressive array of subjects: agriculture, geology, botany, engineering, medicine, philosophy, etc..
7. Means of Support
Primary: Art, Engineering, Patronage
Secondary: Schoolmastering
He first worked as a stained glass-window maker and decorator, then as a land surveyor. In 1543, with the re-establishment of the Gabelle, land surveyors like Palissy were much in demand to survey the salt marshes throughout France. Later he perfected a technique for making a "rustic" enameled earthware that brought him fame and a modest fortune.
Around 1562 he was appointed 'inventeur des rustiques figurines du roi'. In 1567, the queen mother, Catherine de Medici, commissioned him to decorate the new Tuileries palace.
Eight years later, Palissy began to give public lectures on natural history. Despite his lack of formal education, his lectures attracted the most learned men.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat
Anne, Duc de Montmorency, the governor of Saintes, had a keen interest in the fine arts and became his patron. When Palissy was imprisoned in 1562, the governor took his case directly to the queen mother, Catherine de Medici, who set him free and appointed him 'inventeur des rustiques figurines du roi' and commissioned him to decorate the new Tuileries palace.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Chemistry, Cartography, Hydraulics
After 6 years of tireless experimentation, he perfected a technique for making a "rustic" enameled earthware.
See above about surveying.
Palissy constructed the fountains in the Tuillerie.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. E.Dupuy, Bernard Palissy, l'homme, l'artiste, l'savant,l'ecrivain, (Paris, 1894). TP806.P2D9 Desire Leroux, La vie de Bernard Palissy, (Paris, 1927).
  2. NK4210.P3L6 Michaud, Biographie Universelle, (Paris, 1828).
  3. Germaine de Rothschild, Bernard Palissy, (Paris, 1956).
  4. NK4210.P3R87
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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