Pilgrim Flask

Artist: Bernard Palissy (French, Agen, Lot-et-Garonne 1510–1590 Paris) and workshop

Date: probably 1556–67

Medium: Earthenware with colorless and transparent or opaque pigmented green, purple, blue, yellow, red-brown, and black lead glazes.

Dimensions: H. 31 cm, w. 19cm.

Classification: Ceramics-Faience

Credit Line: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.1.1620


Bernard Palissy was a French scientist, writer, garden designer, glassblower, painter, and ceramist. A devout and outspoken Huguenot, he was imprisoned for his religious beliefs and for his role in the Protestant riots of the first of the Wars of Religion. Catherine de'Medici, the French queen, who acted as his protector, commissioned Palissy to build a private grotto for her at the garden of the Tuileries palace. This pilgrim flask belongs to the small group of ceramics, the so-called rustic ceramics, attributed with certainty to Bernard Palissy and his workshop. The pilgrim flask is decorated with the characteristic shells and snakes associated with Palissy’s rustic vessels. Clay or plaster molds were taken of snakes and shells, and then a positive clay model was made from the molds. The pilgrim flask is an unusual form for Palissy, better known for his basins, pitchers, and dishes. Like Palissy’s other rustic works, the pilgrim flask had no utilitarian function.