Semester of Graduation

Summer 2020


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



Early in 1562, France was experiencing a state of high religious tension between Protestants and Catholics that would precipitate the outbreak of the Religious Wars on March 1. A week before, Bernard Palissy, a Huguenot potter, wrote a letter to his Catholic patron from prison inBordeaux where he was being held on charges associated with an iconoclastic incident in his home city of Saintes. This letter would later be published as a dedication letter for the pamphlet Architecture et Ordonnance, which featured the description of a grotto commissioned by Anne de Montmorency, Palissy’s patron, seven years earlier. This thesis analyzes the pamphlet as a single document to study Palissy’s relationship to his patron and to explore the artist’s understanding of nature as revealed by the description.

In analyzing the letter, Palissy’s anxieties concerning his Reformed identity become apparent as he carefully employs a strategy that dances around his Protestantism and argues that truly ingenious art transcends confessional differences. Further, the letter itself serves as an example of patron-artisan communication between two people from vastly different social classes, in which the artisan was making a request to a high noble. This gives us insights into the vertical power dynamic of the patronage system in early modern France, a relationship that was complicated by confessional differences during a period of religious tension.

The proposed grotto description reveals Palissy’s inept attempt to employ the dialogue genre at this early stage of his career, suggesting his aspirations to participate in Renaissance intellectual and cultural life. Further, the description provides insights into Palissy’s understanding of art and nature, which indicates early influences from Pliny’s Natural History and an intention of creating a grotto space that echoes Virgil’s lost Golden Age. Palissy argues that ingenious art overcomes nature, specifically a nature that is disorderly, in motion, full of variety, and in a state of decay. The ingenuity that Palissy obsesses over is characterized by the artisan’s ability to capture nature so exactly that the viewer cannot distinguish between real nature and artistic creation.

Committee Chair

Tuttle, Leslie