Known since the Middle Ages, the “varnished” earthenware technique increased greatly in popularity in Renaissance France. The term refers to a clay-based ceramic covered with a lead-based glaze which is translucent and coloured with metal oxides.
The most spectacular pieces are those with incredibly precise renderings of plants, shells and marine animals. They are traditionally linked to the famous potter Bernard Palissy (1510-1590), a genius ceramic artist who earned the title of “Inventor of the King's Rustic Figulines" in 1563. They were still being made in the 17th century, which is probably when the large dish at the Petit Palais was made.
No doubt ostentatiously displayed on sideboards, they are a wonderful illustration of the Renaissance Princes’ taste for strangeness and technical virtuosity.