Author(s) Palissy, Bernard
Title Architecture, et ordonnance de la grotte rustique...
Imprint La Rochelle, B. Berton, 1563
Subject Architecture, Grottoes
Consult in image mode


     Architecture et ordonnance de la grotte rustique is the first work published by Bernard Palissy in 1563 in La Rochelle.  The author alludes to it in Recepte véritable published the same year, but noone knew of its existence until the bookseller Édouard Rahir (1862-1924) discovered a copy of it during a sale carried out in London in 1919 and published the text with a reproduction of the title page the same year.
The Grotte rustique presents the distinctive feature of adopting the form of a dialogue.  Palissy is doubtless imitating Diego de Sagredo, whose Raison d'architecture antique, the French translation of the Medidas del Romano of 1526 reedited in 1550 and 1555, adapted this artifice to suit the genre of the technical treatise.  However, the two speakers remain anonymous here, and the responses are attributed to "Demande" and "Responce".  The author remains faithful to this dialogue form, effective from a pedagogical point of view, in his other books, the Recepte véritable and the Discours admirables of 1580.
Palissy's intention is to describe the grotto he is working on in his workshop in Saintes for one of Anne de Montmorency's residences.  Palissy was in Montmorency's service then with the title "architecteur et ynventeur des grottes figulines de monseigneur le Connestable".  It is unknown whether the project pertained to Écouen, Chantilly or another of his châteaux; in any case it was part of a tradition, well-established in France after having been created in Italy, in the tradition of the grotto of the Bâtie d'Urfé, the Grotte des Pins at Fontainebleau and the grotto at Meudon.  Palissy's art and his mastery of terracotta and enamels were perfectly appropriate for this very decorative architectural genre, in which the artificial covering of the walls imitates nature in its most rustic forms: "la grotte est édifiée de terre cuite, et émaillée par dessus".  Palissy would create a grotto of the same kind for the garden of the Tuileries, of which nothing remains, unless perhaps a drawing reproduced by Berty in his Topographie historique du vieux Paris.
The project is described in very precise architectural terms: Palissy gives the dimensions of the work, and clarifies that it is ornamented with anthropormophic terms carrying an entablature composed of an architrave, a frieze and a cornice.  A second level has window openings separated by other terms.  The author insists numerous times on the "estrange et monstrueux" aspect of the whole creation. This strangeness is rather paradoxical, for the enameler's art consists precisely in imitating nature very faithfully.  Thus the clothing worn by the terms is so close to reality that "plusieurs voyants ledict œuvre s'en sont retournez en soustenant et opiniâtrant que la toile dont lesdictz termes sont vestuz est naturelle, aussi les cheveux et poils des barbes".  Consequently the « monstruosité » of these compositions resides essentially in their hybrid characteristic: artificial works, and from this point of view, constructed strictly; they wish to give a natural appearance.  The boundary becomes blurred between opera di mano and opera di natura, as in the great Italian mannerist masterpieces of the second half of the 16th century, the Grotto of Boboli or the garden of Bomarzo.  Nature becomes architecture at the same time as architecture merges into nature and the grotto is inhabited by the enameler's artifacts, vegetal and animal, so true to nature that they rival it.  In the same spirit, in the Recepte Palissy suggests trimming the trees in his garden so that their branches will spread out like an entablature: "par tel moyen, les premières branches ainsi couchées d'une colomne à autre, feront directement une forme d'architrave, parce que je leur donneray quelque avancement, en les couchant l'une sur l'autre, pour former les mollures de l'architrave"; and similarly for the frieze and the cornice, made of branches "mesurées par art de Geometrie et Architecture" (1563, f. I 3).  Here Palissy proposes a perfect symmetrical counterpoint to the column sculpted in the shape of a tree, bearing leaf ribs imitating branches, which Philibert De l'Orme devised in the Premier tome (1567, f. 217).
This sort of aesthetic quality of the strange and the monstrous, perfectly compatible with the interest in the composto and the mixture of shapes introduced by Serlio in the Livre extraordinaire of 1551 is characteristic of the France of the last Valois kings.  In 1571, during the solemn entry of Charles IX and Elisabeth of Austria into Paris, at the Notre Dame bridge there was "un arc triomphal d'ordre Tuscan, & d'une mode qui jamais n'avoit été veüe, duquel l'ouverture estoit de douze piedz dans œuvre sous vingt & deux sous clef, le bas jusque à la haulteur de l'architrave faict de rochers parmy lesquelz estoient meslez des coquilles de limax, & herbages telz qu'on les veoid aux bordz des rivieres" (1572, f. 33), decorative elements which respond to the "nombre infini de poissons, comme sont tortues, escrevisses, chancres, grenoilles... et autres espèces de poissons rares, & estranges" inhabiting Palissy's grotto.  In Hugues Sambin’s Œuvre de la diversite des termes (1572), he depicts rustic terms with bodies encased in the stone, on which leaves and clumps of grass thrive and where one notices some strange tiny creatures, flies and snails.  These terms would have been completely appropriate in the Protestant enameler’s grottoes.
The rustic "grotesque" tradition spread in northern Europe during the end of the 16th century and continued in the following century: Wendel Dietterlin (Architectura), Salomon de Caus (La raison des forces mouvantes, 1615), and also Thomas Böckler (Architectura curiosa nova, 1644) put forward models of doors, fountains and grottoes whose spirit and taste are still those of the Grotte rustique.

Yves Pauwels (Centre d’études supérieures de la Renaissance, Tours) – 2011

Critical bibliography

R.-H. Bautier & G. Bresc-Bautier, "Un faux du XIXe siècle: ‘devys d'une grotte pour la Royne, mère du Roy’", Revue de l'art, 78, 1987, pp. 84-85.

A. Berty & H. Legrand, Topographie historique du vieux Paris, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 2, 1885, p. 40.

D. Duport, Le jardin et la nature: ordre et variété dans la littérature de la Renaissance, Geneva, Droz, 2002.

A.-M. Lecoq, "Morts et résurrections de Bernard Palissy", Revue de l'Art, 78, 1987, pp. 26-32.

B. Palissy, Œuvres complètes, M.-M. Fragonard (ed.), Paris, Champion, 2010.

Y. Pauwels, Aux marges de la règle. Essai sur les ordres d'architecture à la Renaissance, Wavre, Mardaga, 2008.

A. Pinelli, La bella maniera. Artisti del Cinquecento tra regola e licenza, Turin, Einaudi, 1993, pp. 152-157.

É. Rahir, Architecture & ordonnance de la grotte rustique. Premier livre du célèbre potier demeuré inconnu. Paris, Rahir, 1919.