“Temperance” platter. Circa 1875/1880


“Temperance” platter.

Varnished sandstone with blue glaze.
Germany, Followers of Palissy and his school, Merkelbach & Wick.

Circa 1875/1880.

Diameter: 41,5 cm (16-1/3 in.).

Signed on back M& W for Merkelbach & Wick.

The “Temperance Platter”, a goldsmith ceramic work from the Renaissance

The “Temperance platter” is a French Renaissance masterpiece of glazed earthenware, attributed to the school of Bernard Palissy, probably by his two sons. Several examples are now housed in the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum and in private collections.
Its complex iconographic pattern reads from the slightly domed center and is divided into concentric zones of alternating allegories in oval cartouches and decorative elements. At the center of the basin is the allegory of Temperance, surmounted with the Latin inscription “Temperantia”. The cardinal virtue of Antiquity Philosophy is accompanied with his attributes: a tazza and a pitcher. Around it are four cartouches with allegories of the four elements: Aqua (Water), Terra (Earth), Ignis (fire) and Aer (Air). Temperance must dominate to make itself beneficial because intemperance of one of the four elements would create disorder. This is why it occupies a central position in the basin.
On the outer-rim of the platter, we find eight cartouches representing the seven liberal arts. The quadrivium Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, Astronomy is on the platter’s left side and the right has the trivium Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric. The eighth cartouche is occupied by Minerva, goddess of Intelligence, Wisdom, patroness of Liberal Arts and Science. Each figure is surrounded by allegorical attributes that they personify.
Temperance also occupies a central position among the Liberal Arts as it is also necessary for the man who wants to excel in the Arts and Sciences. These cartouches are interspersed with decorative elements from the School of Fontainebleau: grotesque masks, coiled leather, arabesques, foliage, fruits, birds, horses, insects or termed figures.
During the Renaissance, while Italian maiolica (painted decoration on tin -glazed pottery) held an important role, the French production was largely dominated by glazed earthenware.
During this period of innovation and research, French decoration was realized with a sophisticated technical processes such as embossment and molding. The “Temperance Platter” was thus a great example of setting “a istoriato” in the French manner where scenes are not painted but molded. This molding technique was well known in Bernard Palissy’s work. Initially, he used bronze medal casts for glazed earthenware, the most famous being that of the Constable Anne de Montmorency, in Ecouen Museum collections, France. This technique was also implemented in the 16th century to realize a goldsmiths’ works to make large platters, ewers or basins. The decor was then in full bloom with Mannerism. The Renaissance princes then exhibited their pottery metalworks on large cabinets.
These molding and embossment techniques serves as a reminder of the art of metal’s influence. In fact, the introduction of various pewter basins and ewers by François Briot (1550-circa 1616), a Huguenot who settled in 1581 in Montbéliard working for the House of Württemberg. The flat metal Temperance platter was probably originally created for Duke Frederick I of Württemberg. Jessie Mac Nab, during the new presentation of French ceramics at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1987, suggested that this platter may have been produced in silver, but no copy is known to this day. It adapts the decorative organization and shaping of large flat metal platters from the 16th century. Much rarer in ceramic than metal, thirty or so pewter Temperance platters by F. Briot are currently listed, most are kept in museums. The Louvre also has an identical platter to that of F. Briot, from the former Sauvageot Collection and realized by Isaak Faust (1606-1669) during the second quarter of the 17th century in Strasbourg. The originator of the Liberal Arts allegories and the four elements while modeling plaques was smith Caspar Enderlein (1560-1633), pewterer in Nuremberg.
The revival of the “Temperance Platter” in the 19th century and the Merkelbach & Wick Company

Forgotten, the Temperance platter was rediscovered in the 19th century. The fashion then was Historicism and the French Renaissance’s aesthetics found enthusiasm.
During the Universal Exposition of 1867, Charles Duron displayed a Temperance basin and ewer, copied from the Renaissance style. He won the gold medal of the exhibition and the Emperor Napoleon III received the basin and ewer as a gift. The Temperance platter and basin acquired a great reputation in the decorative arts field and has since remained an iconic object from the Palisséenne production. Bernard Palissy and his school was also taken up by followers in Tours (Charles Augustus and Avisseau Chauvigné), Paris (Georges Pull) and Angouleme (Alfred Renoleau).
In Germany, a factory was also interested in productions of Bernard Palissy and his school. It was the company Merkelbach & Wick. It was founded in 1872 by Friedrich Wilhelm II Merkelbach (1840-1896) and the sculptor and modeler Georg Peter Wick (1837-1914) in the city of Grenzhausen. They remained well-known known in ceramics history for inventing ivory sandstone (Elfenbeinsteinzeug) in 1883. They may have realized at the beginning, around 1875/1880, large vases, ewers or some great ceremonial platters in a Historicist style like the Temperance platter presented on Expertissim. It adapts the 16th century model and iconography very accurately. These objects were intended to furnish and decorate the mansions built in a Medieval or Neo-Renaissance Style during the second half of the 19th century.
In 1903, the evolution of fashion was compelled to focus on Art Nouveau (Jugendstil). They then involved artists such as Peter Behrens, Albin Müller and Henry van de Velde to create new patterns models and then the company disbanded in 1921.
The Victoria & Albert Museum has several glazed earthenware with Historicist decoration and blue glazing such as the platter presented by Expertissim. They employ the decor of German porcelain from the early 17th century. This collection was purchased by Louis Ravené, an art dealer in Berlin, and was bequeathed to the Victorian & Albert Museum (inventory number: 941-1875, 941A-1875, 946A-1875, 947-1875, 947A-1875 ). They are currently on display in the Ceramics Study Galleries in the Museum (Britain & Europe, room 139).

Bibliography :
AMICO, Léonard, A la recherche du Paradis terrestres, Bernard Palissy et ses continuateurs (In Search of Earthly Paradise), Paris 1996.
AMICO, Léonard, Les céramiques rustiques authentiques de B. Palissy (Authentic Rusticwares by B, Palissy), Revue de l’art, 78, 1987, p. 33-60 and p. 61-69.
BALLOT Marie-Juliette, Bernard Palissy et les fabriques du XVIe siècle, La Céramique française - (Bernard Pallisy and the XVIth Century Factories, French Ceramics) Louvre, Paris, Editions Albert Morancé, 1924.
DASSAS, Frédéric, La Terre vernissée dite de Bernard Palissy (The Glazed Ceramics of Bernard Palissy), Paris, Louvre, 1995, Feuillets du Louvre n°6/31.
FOURNERY, Nicolas, Catalogue of Galerie Christophe Perlès, Basin and ewer known as « de la Tempérance », Bernard Palissy School, Late 16th Century, 2010, p. 16-19.
GIBBON, A, Céramiques de Bernard Palissy, Librairie Seguier, Paris, 1986
Decorative Works. Middle Ages-Renaissance, Visitor’s Guide. Louvre, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des Musées nationaux, 1994, p. 153-154.
MAC NAB, Jessie, Palissy and His School in the Collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987.
NORMAN, A, Wallace Collection catalogue of Ceramics 1, Pottery, Maiolica, Faience, A.V.B. Norman, 1976.
ROTSCHILD (de), G, GRANDJEAN, S, Bernard Palissy et son Ecole (Bernard Palissy and His School) , Editions Pont des Arts, 1952.
TAINTURIER, A, Les terres émaillées de Bernard Palissy (The Enameled Clay Works by Bernard Palissy), Librairie Victor Didron, Paris, 1863.

Provenance :

  • Item(s) quantity:  1
  • Expertissim Reference: 2012110686