Rare Gilt Bronze and vert de mer Marble Mantel Clock
“Venus’s Chariot Accompanied by Adonis”
Case attributed to André-Antoine Ravrio
Paris, Empire period, circa 1805
The sky blue enamel annular dial, decorated with gilt scrolls and ruby cabochons, is signed “Robin à Paris”. It indicates the Roman numeral hours within white oval cartouches and the outermost gilt dot minute graduations by means of two blued steel Breguet hands. The movement is housed within an elaborately decorated chariot wheel that is adorned with a winged figure, scrolls, and a bead frieze. A young woman in the chariot, representing the goddess Venus, sits on a seashell. Wearing drapery that is belted at the waist, she caresses a dove perched on her left knee. She looks toward a young man – the shepherd Paris – who is dressed in a short antique tunic and sandals, with a horn slung across his back. He holds a long stick; his dog sits at his feet. On the front of the chariot, Cupid holds the reins of the two swans with outstretched wings and bent necks that draw the chariot. The quadrangular vert de mer marble base features canted corners that are decorated with fluting; its sides are adorned with applied motifs depicting Cupids forging and sharpening arrows, flanking a central motif of two doves with suspended flower swags, surmounting a double flaming heart that is crowned by a wreath of roses. The clock is raised upon eight lion’s paw feet.
This magnificent neoclassical clock is attributed to André-Antoine Ravrio on the basis of an identical piece that was described in the Elysée Palace in 1809, which is said to have been supplied by Ravrio.
Only a handful of identical clocks are known today. One such example, which was almost certainly in the collection of Napoleon’s mother (Madame Mère), is in the Musée national du Château de Malmaison (illustrated in B. Chevallier, La Mesure du Temps dans les collections du Musée de Malmaison, RMN, Paris, 1991, p. 20, catalogue n° 11). A second clock, corresponding to the model described in 1809 as being in the Murat family’s “salon de famille” in the Elysée Palace, is today part of the Mobilier national in Paris (see M-F. Dupuy-Baylet, Pendules du Mobilier national 1800-1870, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2006, p. 25).
Another such clock – possibly the present example – was estimated in December 1815 at 650 francs in the probate inventory of Michel Ney, the famous Marshal of the Empire whom Napoleon called “the bravest of the brave”: “A clock representing the chariot of Venus, drawn by swans and driven by a Cupid, with the handsome Paris placed on a vert de mer marble base with gilt bronze ornaments, said gilt bronze clock with striking, skeleton dial, and enamel hour chapter ring”.
Robert Robin (1741 - 1799)
Having become a master horologist in November 1767, he was one of the most important Parisian horologists of the last third of the 18th century. He received the honorary titles of Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi et de la Reine in 1783 and 1786. He enjoyed an extraordinary career, distinguishing himself by his exceptional contribution toward the improvement of time measuring instruments.
In 1778, the Academy of Sciences approved two of his inventions, one of which led to the construction of an astronomic clock with a meridian traced on a pyramid, which was acquired by the Menus Plaisirs for Louis XVI that same year; Robin published a very detailed historical and mechanical description of that clock. He also made mantel regulators with astronomic indications and compensation balance, of which the Marquis de Courtanvaux, a man of science and a great connoisseur of precision horology, was one of the earliest acquirers. During the Revolution he made decimal watches and clocks. He worked in the Grande rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (1772), the rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois (1775), the rue Saint-Honoré in the l’Hôtel d’Aligre (1778) and the Galeries du Louvre in 1786.
For his desk regulators, Robin chose very sober architectural cases, which look extraordinarily modern to contemporary viewers. He always worked with the finest artisans of the day, including the bronziers and chasers Robert and Jean Baptiste Osmond, Pierre Philippe Thomire, François Rémond and Claude Galle, the cabinetmakers Jean-Henri Riesener, Ferdinand Schwerdfeger and Adam Weisweiler, the enamellers Barbezat, Dubuisson, Merlet and Coteau for the dials, and Richard and Montginot for the springs.
Robert Robin’s two sons, Nicolas Robert (1775-1812) and Jean-Joseph (1781-1856), were also fine clockmakers and ably continued to run their father’s workshop.
André-Antoine Ravrio (1759 - 1814)
Made master bronzier in 1777, he is one of the most important Parisian bronze workers of the late 18th century and the early Empire period. Supplier of bronzes to the Imperial Garde-meuble, Ravrio helped furnish Napoleon’s residences, along with Thomire and Galle; he also worked for some of the most influential figures of the time, including Marshals of the Empire. Today certain of his works are in the collections of the Mobilier national in Paris.