In the first half of the seventeenth century, Nevers became the principal center of production of French faience, taking over from Lyon and Rouen which had dominated in the previous century. This success was undoubtedly due to the patronage of the dukes of Nevers, princes of the Gonzaga family who had inherited the duchy through the marriage of Luigi Gonzaga to Henriette de Clèves in 1565. They encouraged numerous Italian artists and craftsmen to settle in Nevers, including ceramicists from Liguria such as the Conrade (Corrado) family (a member of which is attested as present in the city in 1578) and others from Faenza, such as the faience maker and painter Julio Gambin. Thanks to the availablity of high quality sand and a considerable network of waterways, faience production grew rapidly – to such an extent that, by the end of the reign of Louis XIII, the city boasted eight factories including the “Autruche” (founded in 1619). The squat oval form of this large dish was directly inspired by the art of precious metals, as was the gadroon molding, rendered by hatching. The outline of the dish, with its broad, flat rim, flared marly and spreading central boss is accentuated by the three registers of the painted composition featuring the same repertoire of delicately painted flowers and birds. The decorators who worked in Nevers added Italian influences to create original designs, foremost among which was the style described in the nineteenth century as “Persian,” combining two transalpine ideas: the “Savona-style” scattered decoration from Liguria, with a composition of various plants and animals (with no concern for scale) covering the entire piece; and the light blue (berettino) ground developed in Faenza in the early sixteenth century, on which painted motifs stand out in blanc fixe (opaque white). This very large dish is one of the finest examples: the scattered decoration has become a more orderly composition of flowers and birds, adapted to the contour of the dish. The remarkable quality of the blue enamel was without compare in Europe at that time and this decorative technique enjoyed lasting popularity. The Nevers potters sometimes embellished the blanc fixe with touches of opaque yellow and, toward the end of the century, shifted from floral compositions to scenes of Chinese inspiration, keeping up with the evolution of taste.
B. R. “Un temps d’exubérance. Les arts Décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d’Autriche,” exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002, p. 361, fig. 1.