Palissy is known for his molding from life of plants, fish, amphibians, and reptiles (Amico 1996). These creatures were captured alive, immersed in urine or vinegar, coated in grease, and finally pressed into plaster (Shell 2004). The resulting mold was used to make a clay impression of the animal, which was then posed with other animals and plants in a naturalistic scene, usually on a large shallow dish known as a rustic platter (see Figure 6.1).
These creatures appear extremely realistic: the process of manufacture permits every scale of fish or snake to be recorded, and Palissy spent years perfecting the glazes that allowed replication of the color and sheen of the living animal. However, rather than considering his work as mere imitation or mimicry of these creatures, Palissy saw his ceramics as replicating natural processes of fossilization (Smith 2000; Newman 2004; Shell 2004). In his Discours Admirables, Palissy describes the power of “generative salt” and “congealative water,” which provided the material substrate of the minerals (Shell 2004, 27). Minerals were seen as having a tendency to congeal within the earth, through the evaporation of “accidental water.” If this happened in an enclosed space, the mineral would congeal in the shape of its container. Palissy considered this to be the method by which fossils were generated. As Newman (2004, 157) argues, Palissy considered natural processes and the potter’s process of fabrication to be the same. His clay was also composed of congealing and generative material. He also made accidental water evaporate in his kiln, thus faithfully reproducing the process whereby nature created
fossils. Palissy’s belief in the equivalence of clay animals and fossils is made evident in his catalogue of his “teaching exhibit,” which he insisted visitors view after attending his lectures. These consisted of a series of fossils displayed alongside items of his own work. Both were used to illustrate the operation of natural processes (Shell 2004, 35–36).
Deception and (Mis)Representation: Skeuomorphs, Materials, and Form