Important Chased Gilt Bronze Neoclassical Clock
“Allegory of Study“
Dial enamelled by Elie Barbezat
Case Attributed to Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain (1719-1791)
Paris, transition between Louis XV and Louis XVI, circa 1770-1775
May confidently be considered to be the clock valued by clockmaker Gabriel Courieult in the posthumous inventory of Peignat’s belongings drawn up in 1776: “n° 14. A mantle clock with its movement signed by Peignat, representing Study …400 livres”.
The enamel dial is signed Peignat à Paris and bears the signature of the enameller Barbezat on its reverse; set in a drum case surmounted by an oil lamp, it has Roman hour numerals and Arabic minute numerals. The bezel is composed of a finely chased laurel torus. The dial is supported by a fluted column that rests on a base upon which is seated a classically dressed female figure holding an open book, an Allegory of Study. At her feet lie books and parchments upon which a proud rooster, symbol of vigilance, is standing. The gilt bronze base is decorated with rosettes and a geometric wave frieze; it rests in turn on an ebony or ebonised wood base ornamented with a stylised frieze similar to those employed by cabinet maker Philippe-Claude Montigny. The toupie feet are engraved with acanthus leaves.
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This clock is one of the greatest successes of the late Louis XV period and the early Louis XVI period. Freely inspired by a model created around 1757 for the famous salonnière Madame Geoffrin, it was used by one of the most talented bronziers of the day, Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain, who appears to have enlisted the sculptor Louis-Félix Delarue (1730-1777) for the design of the main group. In creating this clock, Saint-Germain demonstrated his adaptability and his willingness to embrace the aesthetic canons of the new neoclassical style. He made only a very few versions of the model, each with variations, skilfully combining ornamental motifs and thus rendering each “Allegory of Study” clock a unique work. Among the recorded examples, a nearly identical clock is in the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon (illustrated in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Band I, Munich, 1986, p.161, fig.3.3.5); another is in the Louvre (illustrated in D. Alcouffe, A. Dion-Tenenbaum and G. Mabille, Les bronzes d’ameublement du Louvre, Dijon, 2004, p.125).
Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain (1719 - 1791)
He was probably the most renowned Parisian of the mid 18th century. Active as of 1742, he did become a master craftsman until July 1748. He became famous for his many clock and cartel cases, such as his Diana the Huntress (an example is in the Louvre Museum), the clock supported by two Chinamen (a similar example is in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Lyon), as well as several clocks based on animal themes, including elephant and rhinoceros clocks (an example in the Louvre Museum). In the early 1760’s he played an important role in the renewal of the French decorative arts and the development of the Neo-classical style, an important example of which may be seen in his Genius of Denmark clock, made for Frederic V and based on a model by Augustin Pajou (1765, in the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen). Saint-Germain also made several clocks inspired by the theme of Learning, or Study, based on a model by Louis-Félix de La Rue (examples in the Louvre Museum, the Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Along with his clock cases, Saint-Germain also made bronze furniture mounts, such as fire dogs, wall lights, and candelabra. His entire body of work bears witness to his remarkable skills as a chaser and bronzeworker, as well as to his extraordinary creativity. He retired in 1776.
Gabriel-Pierre Peignat (? - 1776)
Gabriel-Pierre Peignat was one of the foremost Parisian horologists of the 18th century, had a workshop within the enclosure of the Quinze-Vingts. He quickly attracted a wealthy clientele of aristocrats and financiers, including the Marquis du Lau and the Marquis de Sailly, the Count de Ségur, Monsieur de Chevreuse and Monsieur de la Véronnière.
Elie Barbezat is an enameler specialized in dials. He had his practice on rue Bertin Poiré from 1768, and was one of the finest enamellers of the second half of the 18th century. Few enamellers are referenced and researched, but the corpus of his work reveals an activity concentrated between the end of the reign of Louis XV and the first years of the reign of Louis XVI. We estimate that he was mainly active between 1768 and 1776.
He worked with the best clockmakers of the time: Lepaute, Pierre III Leroy and Robert Robin. His signature can also be found on magnificent clocks by Beauvarlet, Peignat, Jean-Gabriel Imbert dit l’aîné and Ragot.
He took on Georges-Adrien Merlet as an apprentice in his workshop on October 30, 1767, and probably trained him to become his successor. His training was successful, as Merlet went on to become one of the top three enamellers of his time, along with Joseph Coteau and Dubuisson.
According to the Brateau Archives, Elie Barbezat was admitted to the Académie de Saint-Luc as a master painter on November 6, 1777.