Exceptional Gilt Bronze and Green Marble Mantel Clock “Paris and Helen”, Directory period

Pierre-Basile Lepaute

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Case Attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire
Exceptional Gilt Bronze and Green Marble Mantel Clock
“Paris and Helen”
Paris, Directory period, circa 1798-1800
Height 72.5cm; width 74 cm; depth 23 cm

The round enamel dial, signed “Lepaute à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic numeral date and minute graduations, by means of three gilt bronze hands, with a blued steel central seconds hand indicating the seconds. The magnificent bronze case is finely chased and gilt. The movement is housed in a square case that is decorated with a laurel torus; the bezel is adorned with an interlace frieze cantered by flowers. The young woman dressed in antique drapery is holding a veil over the head of a young man. The two – representing Helen and Paris - are about to kiss. A helmet and a flaming torch lie at the young man’s feet, while on the other side of the clock a winged Cupid stands on a shield and a quiver of arrows, among the clouds. He is holding a sheathed sword in one hand, while with the other he prepares to remove the drapery veiling the two lovers. The rectangular green marble base with rounded ends features a frieze of stylised leaves; two winged figures stand within framed octagonal reserves whose corners are adorned with palmettes. They flank a central bas-relief depicting the scene of the Judgement of Paris, in which the shepherd Paris awards the apple of discord to Aphrodite, thus angering the goddess Hera. The base is raised upon six finely chased toupie feet that are finely chased with beading and acanthus leaves.

During the Empire period, due in part to the urging of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French decorative arts underwent a complete renewal. Classical antiquity, chiefly Greek and Roman, were an important source of inspiration. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, recounting the adventures of Ulysses and the Trojan War, were especially popular. The theme of Paris and Helen comes from the Cypria, a lost epic of the Epic Cycle that told the story of the Trojan War. The story began at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis on Mount Olympus, to which all the gods were invited except Eris, the goddess of discord. Furious, Eris threw them a golden apple – the apple of discord - bearing the words “to the most beautiful”. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite immediately began fighting over the apple. To resolve the conflict, Zeus ordered Mercury to take them to Mount Ida so that the shepherd Paris, a former Trojan prince, could designate the most beautiful. To influence him in her favour, Aphrodite promised Paris the love of the most beautiful of all women:  Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta and the brother of Agamemnon. Paris and Helen ran away to Troy. This provoked the rage of Menelaus, who rallied all the Greeks to his cause, causing the outbreak of the Trojan War, as told by Homer in the Iliad.

The present clock depicts the meeting of the two young lovers. To date, only one other identical clock is known; its dial bears the signature of the clockmaker Laguesse and its chased and gilt bronze case is attributed to the sculptor Pierre-Philippe Thomire (see A. Kuchumov, Pavlovsk, Palace & Park, Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1975, p. 53, fig. 20). That clock stands in the Greek Hall, which is located between the former apartments of the Imperial couple in Pavlovsk Palace. It is part of an important collection of bronze furnishings and clocks that was acquired by six French merchants between June 1798 and October 1799 to decorate Emperor Paul I of Russia’s rooms in Saint Michael Palace near Saint Petersburg  (see I. Zek, “Bronzes d’ameublement et meubles français achetés par Paul 1er pour le Château Saint-Michel de Saint Petersburg en 1798-1799”, in Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, 1994).

Given its date, the present clock was probably made by Pierre-Basile Lepaute, dit Sully-Lepaute (1750-1843), one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1853)
Thomire was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.
Pierre-Basile Lepaute, known as Sully-Lepaute (1750-1843)
Was one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the mid 1760’s he went to work with his uncles, who were also clockmakers, and began his training in the family workshop. In the early days he was in partnership with his uncle and cousin, in 1789 becoming sole owner of the workshop. Toward the end of the 18th century, he and his nephew Jean-Joseph Lepaute founded a new company that was active until 1811 and won a silver medal at the 1806 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. In 1811, his nephew opened his own workshop, while Pierre-Basile and his son Pierre-Michel (1785-1849) founded a new firm called “Lepaute et fils”. For several decades they were the principal suppliers of clocks to the Imperial and Royal Garde-Meuble; they were named, successively, Horloger de l’Empereur and Horloger du Roi.

Object Name: Exceptional Gilt Bronze and Green Marble Mantel Clock “Paris and Helen”, Directory period
Artist name: Pierre-Basile Lepaute
Reference: P235
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