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Rare Gilt Bronze and White Carrara Marble Mantel Clock

Allegory of Spring


Movement plate signedMichel à Paris

Parisian Clockmaker Active circa 1765-1785

Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1775-1780

Height59 cm Width35 cm Depth20 cm

The circular enamel dial, bearing the words “Place Louis X4”, features the number 1 of the hour indication within an oval; this may be considered the mark of a particular Parisian enameller – often seen on clocks by the horologist Lépine – in which the hours are indicated in Roman and Arabic numerals, the minutes in intervals of five, and the date in Arabic numerals, with three hands, two of which are made of pierced and gilt bronze. The plate of the hour and half-hour striking movement is signed “Michel à Paris”; the movement is housed in a finely chased case made of gilt bronze with matte and burnished finishing and Carrara marble. The dial is placed on a fluted column that is surrounded by oak leaves and rests on a quadrangular plinth decorated with a plaque in relief that represents putto astronomers under an arcade. The column is surmounted by a vase terminating in a bouquet of flowers, whose handle is adorned with grotesque mascarons issuing flower and leaf garlands that are held by two elegant standing female figures wearing antique draperies, which symbolize the Spring. The stepped quadrangular base, with projecting elements on its façade, is embellished with a trophy featuring a lyre and a book; it is placed on laurel branches, above a large rosette within a reserve and an interlace frieze with alternating flower blossoms. The clock stands on four toupie feet with knurled bands.

The elegant composition of the present clock, and particularly the two beautiful female figures, appears to have been inspired by the work of certain important Parisian sculptors of the time such as Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-1791), who frequently used this type of allegory (see the exhibition catalogue Falconet à Sèvres ou l’art de plaire 1757-1766, RMN, Paris, 2001). Today only a few identical clocks are known; some of them feature variations. One example, whose dial is signed by the clockmaker Lepaute, is illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 257. A second clock, whose dial is signed Guydamour à Paris, was illustrated in 1900 in the catalogue of the Exposition rétrospective de l’Art français des origines à 1800 (published by La Librairie des Beaux-Arts under the direction of Emile Molinier). One final example, whose dial is signed Charles Dutertre à Paris, is in the Nissim de Camondo Museum in Paris; it is displayed on the mantle of the Count of Camondo’s petit bureau de travail (illustrated in S. Legrand-Rossi, Le mobilier du musée Nissim de Camondo, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2012, p. 27).

Michel à Paris

This is the signature of a Parisian clockmaker who was active during the second half of the 18th century. Tardy mentions several clockmakers of that name who were active during the period, including Jean Michel, who became a master in 1770 and Nicolas Michel, who became master in 1779 (see Tardy, Dictionnaire des horlogers français, Paris, 1971, p. 463). Several clocks bearing the signature “Michel à Paris” are listed in archival documents; among them are those mentioned in the posthumous inventory of François-Camille, Prince of Lorraine in 1788, and that of Jean Masson de Plissay, secretary to Louis XV in 1767.