Nevers: The Golden Age Of French Faience

The production of Nevers continued to be inspired by Italian Renaissance maiolica until the end of the seventeenth century (cats. 22, 24, 25, 26, 27), even though maiolica production in Italy was in decline. Neverian potters and painters became inspired by ceramics from Persia (see, for example, the platter) and Delftware (cat. 21). Delftware was, in turn, inspired by Chinese porcelain, primarily blue and white, which the East India Company had been importing to Holland since its founding in 1602.

Potters and painters in Nevers also created new colors and a wide range of decorative styles, gradually developing a unique character. For example, they invented an emerald green that was used to decorate both borders and entire pieces, such as the pilgrim flask (cat. 23). They also produced pieces decorated with scenes mixing Chinese and Turkish influences, as seen on the gourd painted in monochrome blue with Chinese warriors on horseback on one side and Turks in an Asian-style landscape on the other (cat. 17). When pieces were painted with colorful mythological scenes, or istoriati, in the tradition of Italian Renaissance maiolica, these were now surrounded by decorative borders newly created at Nevers (cats. 21, 22, 26).

During the seventeenth century, faience was still very costly and therefore acquired, collected, and gifted exclusively by patrons at the highest levels of French society. These dishes, plates, gourds, and flasks were not intended for use but instead for display on a credenza. In rare instances, a coat-of-arms or a cypher, like the unidentified one on the dish (cat. 26), was added to celebrate the illustrious owner.

  • One side of an earthenware gourd-shaped vessel with a scene of two figures on horseback with weapons

    Gourd
    Nevers, ca. 1670−80
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 17 3/8 in. (44 cm), W. 9 in. (23 cm)
    Cat. 17
    © The Frick Collection

  • Earthenware plate with a scene of Poseidon riding his chariot in a seascape at the center and a floral design around the edge

    Plate
    Nevers, ca. 1680−85
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 22 3/8 in. (56.8 cm)
    Cat. 21
    © The Frick Collection

  • Earthenware plate with a scene of nude figures on an island while a flying figure fights a sea monster

    Plate
    Nevers, ca. 1680−90
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 22 1/8 in. (56.2 cm)
    Cat. 22
    © The Frick Collection

  • One side of an earthenware vase with floral designs, animals, and insects depicted in green.

    Flask
    Nevers, ca. 1680−90
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 11 in. (28 cm), W. 7 in. (17.8 cm)
    Cat. 23
    © The Frick Collection

  • Earthenware gourd shaped vessel with a scene of four small nude figures carrying a fourth figure at the center while a faun-like figure sits at the bottom.

    Gourd
    Nevers, ca. 1680−90
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 14 5/8 in. (37 cm), W. 11 in. (28 cm)
    Cat. 24
    © Christophe Perlès

  • Earthenware plate with a winged nude figure blowing a horn and sitting on a fish, whose tail turns into a floral design swirling around the plate.

    Plate
    Nevers, ca. 1680−90
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm)
    Cat. 25
    © Christophe Perlès

  • Earthenware dish with a scene of three nude figures, three winged figure, and a horse in a body of water at the center with a floral design an more winged figures on the outside.

    Dish
    Nevers, ca. 1680−1700
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    Diam. 18 3/4 in. (47.7 cm)
    Cat. 26
    © Christophe Perlès

  • Two earthenware flasks with protruding goat heads as handles. One flask depicts a group of people floating in a body of water with one holding a trident at the center. The other flask depicts two small figures holding horns and riding a sea creature.

    Pair of Flasks
    Nevers, ca. 1680−1700
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 13 1/8 in. (33.4 cm), W. 8 1/2 in. (22 cm)
    Cat. 27
    © Christie's

  • Earthenware planter in blue, green, and orange with landscape scenes and two raised portraits

    Orange-Tree Planter
    Nevers, ca. 1680
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 25 in. (63.5 cm), W. 27 in. (68.6 cm), D. 21 1/8 in (54 cm)
    Cat. 20
    © Christophe Perlès

     

    Over the years, Nevers potters and painters refined the technique of tin-glazed earthenware, which enabled them to produce larger and more ambitious objects, like this rare tree planter, the largest faience piece known today. Its general shape was influenced by contemporary architecture, and the two large heads of Apollo on each side are characteristic of the Baroque style developed at the court of Versailles under Louis XIV. However, the originality of this piece is its type of decoration called à la palette de Nevers (in the palette of Nevers), inspired by Japanese porcelain and developed at Nevers. It is characterized by the use of grand feu colors — deep blue, dark manganese purple, bright yellow, orange ochre, and olive green — applied next to each other on large surfaces without depth or perspective. The images depicted here are Asian-inspired scenes and rural landscapes.

    Such pots were used for orange and other fruit trees cultivated by the king, members of his family, and other wealthy aristocrats. They were placed inside orangeries, or greenhouses, during the winter, and, during the warm months of the year, in symmetrical jardins à la française (French Gardens), including those designed by André Le Nôtre, principal gardener and landscape architect of Louis XIV

  • Blue earthenware ewer with a vine-like handle, decorated in white with floral designs and a scene of two robed figures holding an umbrella

    Ewer
    Possibly forming a set with Basin
    Nevers, ca. 1680
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 27 1/2 in. (70 cm), W. 13 in. (33 cm)
    Cat. 18
    © Christophe Perlès

     

    This ewer and the recently discovered basin are the most beautiful known pieces made with the famous dark blue background known as “Nevers blue,” invented in the second half of the seventeenth century in Nevers. Their shapes recall silver pieces used at the court of Louis XIV while their painted decoration — with figures wearing turbans, a shepherdess spinning a distaff, and peddlers — is inspired by early seventeenth-century French literature, including the novel L’Astrée by Honoré d’Urfé, published between 1607 and 1627.

    These two exceptional pieces were originally intended for display during a banquet on a credenza, temporarily set up either inside a royal or princely residence, or outside, in a lavish jardin à la française.

  • Blue earthenware basin with a scene of three figures at the center and plants around the edge in white

    Basin
    Possibly forming a set with Ewer
    Nevers, ca. 1680
    Faience (tin-glazed earthenware)
    H. 19 1/4 in. (49 cm), L. 22 3/4 in. (58 cm)
    Cat. 19
    © Camille Leprince

     

    This recently discovered basin and the ewer are the most beautiful known pieces made with the famous dark blue background known as “Nevers blue,” invented in the second half of the seventeenth century in Nevers. Their shapes recall silver pieces used at the court of Louis XIV while their painted decoration — with figures wearing turbans, a shepherdess spinning a distaff, and peddlers — is inspired by early seventeenth-century French literature, including the novel L’Astrée by Honoré d’Urfé, published between 1607 and 1627.

    These two exceptional pieces were originally intended for display during a banquet on a credenza, temporarily set up either inside a royal or princely residence, or outside, in a lavish jardin à la française.