Urania Mantel Clock, Empire period
Attributed to Sculptor François Masson (1745-1807)
Important White Marble Mantel Clock
Paris, early Empire period, circa 1805
Height 54 cm; width 31 cm; depth 21 cm
The enamel dial indicates the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arabic numerals, by means of a pair of pierced gilt bronze hands; the bezel features the signs of the zodiac in gilt bronze on a blue ground. The round case is set upon the knees of a female figure sculpted in white marble, who probably represents Urania, the muse of Astronomy. Dressed in a long robe and sandals, her hands are folded on top of the clock case. She is flanked by two patinated bronze pillars decorated with gilt bronze friezes that are surmounted by sitting lions. The ochre marble base is adorned with a finely chiselled leaf frieze.
The present clock relates to a number of classical sculptures, and particularly to certain Greek and Egyptian pieces. Models featuring solemn seated female figures seem appear during the early 19th century; while a few similar clocks are recorded, most of them are in chased and patinated bronze. This may indicate that the present example was the original model for examples created by a Parisian bronzier such as Pierre-François Feuchère. Among the known similar models, one is in the collection of the Museo de Relojes de las Bodegas (illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die Französische Bronzeuhr, Munich, 1997, fig. 468); another, with a figure holding tablets, is pictured in P. Heuer and K. Maurice, European Pendulum Clocks, Decorative Instruments of Measuring Time, Munich, 1988, p. 85, fig. 150; a third signed Piolaine, similar to the preceding example, is in the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg (illustrated in A. Kuchumov, Pavlovsk, Palace & Park, Leningrad, 1975, fig. 163); an example in the Malmaison Museum, delivered circa 1800-1803 for the Saint-Cloud Palace, is identical to a clock offered in the 1825 sale of the collection of the architect Hurtault. At this sale the sculptor’s name was mentioned: “… this figure, patinated in antique green, was created by the late sculptor M. Masson…” (see the exhibition catalogue La mesure du Temps dans les collections de Malmaison, May 29, 1991, September 15, 1991, RMN, Paris, p. 12, catalogue n° 5).
François Masson (1745-1807) one of the most important French sculptors of the last third of the 18th century and the early years of the following century. He trained in Paris, in the workshop of Guillaume Coustou, and then travelled to Rome where he completed his training, staying until 1775. Upon returning to France, one of his patrons, the maréchal de Broglie, entrusted him with the decoration of the Palais du Gouvernement in Metz. Back in Paris six years later, he sculpted the busts of several influential people, took part in the construction of the Pantheon, and regularly exhibited at the Parisian salons. Around 1800, he was named “Sculpteur du Conseil des Anciens”; during the Empire he received the Legion of Honour. He died in Paris on December 18, 1807; his final creations were shown posthumously, in 1808 and 1810.