Anatomy of a plate

Have you ever taken a good look at a plate ?

Don’t be cheeky, I know I’m not the only one.

We use them every day, see them everywhere, and almost never notice them for more than a few seconds. We have plates for “guests”, plates for different types of food, plates for occasions, plates of almost every material available. They come with an infinite variation of shapes and decors. In one form or another, plates have been part of our lives probably as soon as we started cooking and sharing meals.

We like plates. We use plates. We want plates.

But if we were to describe our ideal one, we will probably be limited by our lack of vocabulary and end up with phrases like “the bit that goes up” or “the outside but not the outside-outside”.

Thankfully, gentle readers, plates makers and plates enthusiasts use a precise lexicon that we can use.

Anatomy of a plate

Now, it is time to test our newfound knowledge on plates !

How would you describe this one ?

Plate with river animals and plants reliefs from the school of Bernard Palissy
Platter, follower of Bernard Palissy, last quarter of the 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art


First, breath. Everything is fine.

Then, don’t be fooled by the decor and keep in mind the separation between the well (bottom), the lip (upward slope) and the rim (highest point).

Start from the centre and make your way slowly outward.

It can go something like that:

This is a shallow oval-shaped ceramic platter ornate with naturalistic decors mimicking a pond. The well shows a laying snake surrounded by fishes seen from above. The lip has the base of leaves and branches, with a climbing frog on the left and a crayfish on the right. The rim has lizards shaped reliefs looking like they’re wandering about, leaves and branches and a coiled snake on the lower right quadrant. The entirety of the platter is covered with shells and pebbles from the well to the rim.

Now, don’t be mad. A platter is nothing more than a big plate, so it still counts ! Obviously, this plate is not intended to contain food, as are most pieces from Bernard Palissy workshop. They’re a decorative element whose aims are both to show the wonders of nature and to display the wealth of the owner. These were luxury (and pricey!) pieces.

Bonus point: the MET museum’s notice of the platter indicates that there is a water beetle. I have to say I was not able to locate it. Kudos if you did !

If this style of plate has you wondering, please give this article about Bernard Palissy a read and maybe use the footnotes links. Grab a cup of tea and take some time to read this biography piece too.

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