How ‘Saltburn’ has reintroduced obscure French ceramist to the masses

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Since its release on Amazon Prime, Saltburn has been stirring up interest online. On social networks, Internet users are dissecting the smallest details of this feature film from director Emerald Fennell. Their attention is particularly drawn to Bernard Palissy, a French artist mentioned several times in the movie.


Palissy is first mentioned in Saltburn through the main protagonist, Oliver Quick (played by Barry Keoghan). A student from a humble background at Britain’s prestigious Oxford University, Quick befriends Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), a young aristocrat with irresistible charm. Catton invites him to spend the summer at his family’s Saltburn estate.

It’s here that Oliver Quick comes across a collection of ceramics by Palissy, a 16th-century ceramist and scholar little known to the general public.

But the young man pretends to be familiar with his work in order to impress his hosts. This earns him the admiration of the patriarch of the Catton clan, Sir James (Richard E. Grant).

Palissy comes up again later in the movie as part of a plot to expose the duplicity of another character.

For many viewers, the release of Saltburn has turned out to be an opportunity to discover the story of this self-taught Renaissance man, who was, during his lifetime, highly esteemed by the French aristocracy but persecuted for his Protestant faith.

His ceramics rarely appear on the market, but this does not prevent them from being highly coveted by collectors.

The specialist website Artnet claims that over 600 of his creations have been sold at auction in recent years.


One of them, dating from between 1565 and 1570, even sold for US$428,400 (approximately RM2mil) last October at Christie’s in New York. Francois Pinault’s auction house had estimated that the oval plate would fetch between US$30,000 (RM140,000) and US$50,000 (RM233,000).

But the Internet users who have seen Saltburn are not interested in Palissy’s works for their value on the art market, but for what they symbolise within the context of the Emerald Fennell movie. Some have even posted videos on the social network TikTok, in which they share their theories with other film fans.

Amelia Marran-Baden, an art influencer known as @meelzonart on the platform, asserts that the animal-adorned tableware for which Palissy is renowned fits perfectly with the theme of nature developed throughout the film.

“The garden is clearly a very significant motif in Saltburn, and when paired with the serpent or snake, it recalls the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and the snake representing evil, destruction, sort of menacing and deceit, just like Oliver,” she explains in one of her posts about the film.

Her analysis seems to have convinced TikTok users, as the video has been viewed 772,000 times on the platform, gaining 68,000 likes.

All of which is enough to bring Palissy firmly back to the forefront.

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