Important Chased and Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock
“Allegory of Knowledge”
Case Attributed to Robert Osmond
Paris, late Louis XV period, circa 1765-1770
The round enamel dial, signed “Robin à Paris”, indicates the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arabic numerals by means of two pierced gilt bronze fleur de lys hands. It is housed in a gilt bronze case and framed by ribbon-tied laurel branches; the bezel is adorned with stylised flowers. It rests on an antique borne, or millarium, whose moulded base is decorated with a ribbon-tied laurel leaf frieze. Two beautifully sculpted figures are placed right and left of the dial. One, a seated female figure dressed in a long toga, appears to be looking at the spectator; she holds a laurel wreath in her left hand. The other, a young, lightly draped Cupid, appears to be absorbed in a parchment that is lying on a table with ram’s head legs. Three large tomes lie at his feet. The fine moulded white marble base is elaborately adorned with a very finely chased and gilt entrelac and rosette frieze.
The unusual design of the present clock ranks it among the finest Parisian horological creations of the early French neoclassical period. It is attributed to Robert Osmond (1711-1789), one of the most important Parisian bronziers of the second half of the 18th century. Osmond, who enjoyed fame and renown throughout most of his career, particularly excelled in the creation of clocks based on allegorical themes, such as this one. Influenced by the work of his colleague Caffieri, he was one of the precursors of the renewal of the French decorative arts beginning in the mid-1760’s. His work was much appreciated by the important collectors of the period and his reputation quickly spread. Aided by his nephew Jean-Baptiste Osmond, who became a master founder in 1764 and who took over his workshop after his death in 1789, Osmond could boast of having many of the avant-garde elite among his clientele.
To the best of our knowledge, only one other identical clock is known. Bearing the stamp of the crowned letter “F” in the bronze, (probably the inventory mark of the Château de Fontainebleau), it is in the collection of the French Mobilier national – and more precisely, located today in the Archives nationales in the former Hôtel Soubise (illustrated in the ANCAHA bulletin, n°119, Autumn 2010, p. 67; it is also illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Eine Typologie der figürlichen Darstellungen, Munich, 1997, p. 213, fig.325).
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.
Robert Osmond (1711 - 1789)
French bronze-caster Robert Osmond was born in Canisy, near Saint-Lô; he began his apprenticeship in the workshop of Louis Regnard, maître fondeur en terre et en sable, and became a master bronzier in Paris in 1746. He is recorded as working in the rue des Canettes in the St. Sulpice parish, moving to the rue de Mâcon in 1761. Robert Osmond became a juré, thus gaining a certain degree of protection of his creative rights. In 1753, he sent for his nephew in Normandy, and in 1761, the workshop, which by that time had grown considerably, moved to the rue de Macon. The nephew, Jean-Baptiste Osmond (1742-after 1790) became a master in 1764 and as of that date worked closely with his uncle, to such a degree that it is difficult to differentiate between the contributions of each. Robert appears to have retired around 1775. Jean-Baptiste, who remained in charge of the workshop after the retirement of his uncle, encountered difficulties and went bankrupt in 1784. Robert Osmond died in 1789.
Prolific bronze casters and chasers, the Osmonds worked with equal success in both the Louis XV and the Neo-classical styles. Prized by connoisseurs of the period, their work was distributed by clockmakers and marchands-merciers. Although they made all types of furnishing objects, including fire dogs, wall lights and inkstands, the only extant works by them are clocks, including one depicting the Rape of Europe (Getty Museum, California) in the Louis XV style and two important Neo-classical forms, of which there are several examples, as well as a vase with lions’ heads (Musée Condé, Chantilly and the Cleveland Museum of Art) and a cartel-clock with chased ribbons (examples in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum; Paris, Nissim de Camondo Museum). A remarkable clock decorated with a globe, cupids and a Sèvres porcelain plaque (Paris, Louvre) is another of their notable works.
Specialising at first in the rocaille style, in the early 1760’s they turned to the new Neo-classical style and soon numbered among its greatest practitioners. They furnished cases to the best clockmakers of the period, such as Montjoye, for whom they made cases for cartonnier and column clocks, the column being one of the favourite motifs of the Osmond workshop.