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Rieussec  -  Dubuisson  -  Denière
Dubuisson (1731-1815)

Important Monumental Gilt Bronze and Green Marble Mantel Clock

Urania or Allegory of Astronomy


Movement signed “Rieussec/Hger du Roi”, for Parisian clockmaker Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec

Counter-enamel of the dial signed “Dubuisson”, for Parisian enameller Etienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson

Case attributed to Parisian bronze caster Jean-François Denière

Paris, Empire – Restoration period (Louis XVIII), circa 1815

Height93 cm Width65.5 cm Depth32.4 cm

The white enamel dial, whose counter-enamel is signed “Dubuisson”, indicates the Roman numeral hours, divided into twice twelve, by means of a star-shaped hand; it features a painted enamel hemisphere centered on the Arctic pole, which indicates terrestrial longitude. The hour- and half hour-striking movement, whose plate is signed “Rieussec/Hger du Roi”, is housed in a finely chased gilt bronze case with matte finishing; it stands on a green marble plinth. A magnificent draped female figure, allegory of the muse Urania, holds a telescope in her left hand in order to gaze at the stars; she is measuring the celestial globe with a compass. The globe, which features a rotating band bearing the signs of the zodiac, is adorned with finely chased star motifs, and is borne on the backs of four recumbent female sphinxes whose front paws are crossed and who are wearing nemes headdresses. They in turn are supported on a plinth that is set on a rectangular pedestal base whose upper portion features concave molding and is adorned with gadrooning and palm leaves. The sides of the base are decorated with low relief depictions of kneeling Egyptian priests invoking the god Apis, around whose wrapped body a snake is twining. The entablature that supports these figures is engraved with hieroglyphics. The sides of the quadrangular green marble base are decorated with applied rosettes, which when pulled reveal metal bars that allow the monumental clock to be transported more easily.

On the façade of the base, a low relief scene with a matte ground depicts eight gods or heroes attending a lesson on astronomy that is being given by the muse Urania. A further plinth with sloping molding stands on four slightly protruding rectangular feet.

The remarkable design of the present clock is a version of a neoclassical model with two figures that was created around 1765 by the architect Charles de Wailly, the clockmaker Lepaute and the sculptor Houdon. One example of this type of clock is now in the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau (illustrated in P. Verlet, Les bronzes dorés français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 35). Several decades later, during the Empire period, the model was brilliantly redesigned “in the Egyptian manner” by the bronze caster Jean-François Denière; it became a great success among the important connoisseurs of the period. The model was inspired by a watercolor sketch by architects Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, from their well-known Recueils de Décorations intérieures that was published in Paris in 1801. In it, plate VIII shows a design of an Egyptian-style clock surmounted by female sphinxes and adorned with the figures of priests or priestesses who are invoking the god Apis and making sacrifices to him (see exhibition catalogue Egyptomania, L’Egypte dans l’art occidental 1730-1930, Musée du Louvre, RMN, Paris, p. 287-288, catalogue n° 168).

Today, among the small number of known identical clocks, some of which feature variations, particularly in the materials used for the bases, one notes a gilt bronze example that is in the Spanish Royal Collection (see J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de Relojes del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1987, p. 283). A second clock, whose dial is signed Bailly, is on exhibit in the Grand Trianon of the Château de Versailles (illustrated in D. Ledoux-Lebard, Le Grand Trianon, meubles et objets d’art, Paris, 1975, p.192). An identical clock, which also features a hemisphere painted in enamel, was in the collection of Jacques Laffitte, an influential banker to King Louis XVIII: “A large gilt bronze clock with matte and antique green finishing, representing Urania who is measuring the distance between the stars. The low relief scene depicts an astronomy lesson in Egypt. The architectural Egyptian-style pedestal is surmounted by a celestial globe whose center features a zodiac band placed along the ecliptic, which makes one revolution per year, and indicates the months and dates. The dial shows the apparent solar system: one of the sunrays indicates the terrestrial longitude on a painted enamel hemisphere with the arctic pole in its center, while another ray indicates the time on an enamel ring with 24 hour divisions. This extremely complicated clock honors the name of M. Rieussec, who is its author”.

Jean-François Denière (1774 - 1866)

The signatures “Denière” or “Denière Fabt de Bronzes à Paris” are that of Jean-François Denière (1774-1866), one of the most important Parisian bronze casters of the late 18th century and the early decades of the following century. In just a few years he became one of the most important suppliers of bronze furnishings, working for the imperial Garde-Meuble; in addition, he developed a wealthy private clientele. Until 1820 he was in partnership with François-Thomas Matelin, which led him to take part in the decoration of most of the imperial palaces and châteaux, delivering bronze furnishings and clocks, through the intermediary of several of their fellow bronze casters.

Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec (1781 - 1866)

Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec was one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the early decades of the 19th century. His workshop was recorded successively in the rue du Marché-Pallu from 1804 to 1812, then in the rue Neuve des Petits-Champs as of 1815. Having been named Clockmaker to the king during the reign of Louis XVIII, he distinguished himself by dint of the innovations and improvements he brought to horology; he was, notably, the inventor of inking chronographs and seconds counters (see Tardy, Dictionnaire des horlogers français, Paris, 1971, p. 555).

Dubuisson (1731 - 1815)

Étienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson, was one of the best enamellers working in Paris during the latter part of the 18th century and the early 19th century. During the mid 1750’s he was employed at Sèvres, then opened his own workshop, being recorded in the 1790’s in the rue de la Huchette and, circa 1812, in the rue de la Calandre. Specializing in enamelled watch cases and clock dials, he is known for his great skill and attention to detail.

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