Bernard Palissy was born in the village of Lacapelle-Biron, in Perigord, about 1506. He worked first at painting glass, and following this occupation wandered over France, Germany, the Netherlands, and as far south as the Pyrenees. In 1538 we find him at home at Xaintes, where he marries and becomes the father of a large family, is reduced to extreme poverty and avows himself an ardent Protestant. About 1540 an enamelled cup from a factory at Nuremberg having fallen into his hands, he set to work, unaided, to reproduce it. After years of misery and privation he succeeded, and soon, under the patronage of the Parthenay, Pons and Soubise families, the expounders of Protestantism, his artistic work became known, and Anne de Montmorency gave him her protection. In 1562, but for her intercession, he would have lost his life on account of his religion, which he professed openly. In 1563 we find him living at La Rochelle, where he published one of his works. Very soon after this he moved to Paris and became the firm friend of Jean Goujon, his co-religionist, who was killed at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572. Palissy escaped under the protection of Catherine de Medici, who in 1562 had conferred upon him the title of ” Inventor of the Rustic Potteries to the King and Queen Mother.”
From 1575 to 1584 Palissy delivered courses of public lectures, which were attended by his most learned contemporaries. Finally in 1587, at the age of eighty-one, on account of his religion, he was thrown into the Bastile, where he died about 1590. Henri III paid him a visit there and exhorted him to change his religion, saying: ” I have been constrained to give you up to your enemies.” ” Sire,” answered Palissy, ” you have often said that you pitied me, and now I pity you who have just said ` I am constrained.’ Those are not the words of a king. I am ready to give my life for the glory of God, and whatever regret I may have had has passed away in hearing my king pronounce the words, `I am constrained.’ That, Sire, neither you nor those who have constrained you can effect with me, because I know how to die.”
Palissy was an author, an engineer, a geometrician, a naturalist, a philosopher, an artist, and a martyr. His potteries, original in design and execution, have been imitated and reproduced down to the present day. His moulds, which he carefully preserved, were sold at his death and used by his successors. The principal imitators of his style today are MM. Pull and Barbizet at Paris, the Avisseaus at Tours, and Minton at Stoke-upon-Trent in England.