search icon

Thématiques: Mysterious Clock

  • Thomire
    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1843)

    Important Monumental Matte Gilt Bronze and Red Griotte Marble Mantel Clock

    “The Reader”


    Attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire

    Paris, Empire period, circa 1810

    Height79 cm Diamètre37 cm


    – Probably purchased by Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince of Benevento, to furnish his Parisian mansion and the Château de Valençay

    – Probably his nephew, General Alexandre-Edmond de Talleyrand-Périgord

    – His son, Louis Duke de Talleyrand-Périgord

    – His son, Boson de Talleyrand-Périgord, prince de Sagan

    – His son, Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord (the clock in the Château du Marais)

    – His daughter, Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duchess de Sagan

    – Thence by descent


    This important  monumental mantle clock, made of finely chased matte gilt bronze and red griotte marble, features a rectangular case that houses the mechanism. Its upper portion is adorned with half cartouches containing palmettes flanked by facing griffons. The sides are adorned with winged female figures holding wreaths suspended from roundels. The wreath on the façade is centered by an œil-de-bœuf aperture that reveals the cercles tournants that indicate the Roman numeral hours (below), and the Arabic numeral two-minute intervals (above). The corners of the rectangular case are decorated with flaming torches linked by ribbons and flower garlands, while four griffons whose tails are interlaced in an arabesque pattern, decorate the lower corners. The magnificent monumental figure representing a classically dressed woman is leaning on the case; she indicates the time with her right hand and holds a book in the other hand. The whole stands on a circular base decorated with a low relief band featuring mythological scenes alternating with pilasters and palm leaves. The clock stands on four flattened ball feet.

    This important monumental mantel clock counts among the most spectacular clocks of the Empire period. Its rarity and the exceptional quality of its chasing and gilding, allow it to be confidently attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, the most talented Parisian bronzier of his time. Its model, known as “à la liseuse” (The Reader), depicts a standing female figure who is dressed in classical robes and leans on a rectangular case, is one of the models of the Louis XVI period in which the figure is depicted either reclining or leaning on the clock case. This remarkable clock, whose main figure is a remarkable sculpture in its own right, is of monumental proportions. Its model is nearly unique; to date only one other identical clock is known, in the British embassy in Paris. It stands in the Grand Green and Gold Salon of the Hôtel de Charost. That clock was ordered in 1810 by Princess Pauline Borghèse, the sister of Napoléon I, for her Parisian mansion in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (illustrated in Jean Nérée Ronfort and Jean-Dominique Augarde, A l’ombre de Pauline. La résidence de l’ambassadeur de Grande-Bretagne à Paris, Éditions du Centre de recherches historiques, Paris, 2001, p. 73-74, fig. 57).

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757 - 1843)

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.

    Antide Janvier (1751-1835)

    Exceptional Wall Clock with Double Time Indication


    Paris, Empire period, circa 1805-1810

    Height53.5 Width53.5 Depth12

    The gilt motifs of the clock stand out against a magnificent square panel of polished red Egyptian porphyry, which forms the dial. Two delicately carved octagonal grooves surround the Roman numeral hour chapter. Each corner features a triangular frame centred by two laurel branches. The central portion of the dial, signed “Antide Janvier à Paris”, features the clockmaker’s initials on a shield framed by two leafy branches; a large gilt bronze arrow-shaped hand bears a small silvered metal annular dial with the engraved Roman hour indications, which are indicated by a small arrow pointing the opposite direction. Similarly to “mystery” clocks, the mechanism is driven by a weight that drives both the main hand and the subsidiary dial, thus creating a double time indication. The dial is framed by a moulded gilt wood frame and is protected by a glass panel.


    – Hayard, Antide Janvier 1751-1835, Horloger des étoiles, Villeneuve-Tolosane, 1995

    – Hayard, Antide Janvier 1751-1835, Sa vie à travers son œuvre, 2011


    This extraordinary clock is extremely unusual and probably unique. It is yet another illustration of the remarkable ingenuity of Antide Janvier, who constantly strove to create innovative timekeeping instruments. The clockmaker may have taken his general inspiration from a mechanical picture with a clock in the collection of Bonnier de la Mosson, which today is in the Paris Musée des Arts décoratifs (illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 314). But no piece can rival in ingenuity with the present clock, which is yet another masterpiece created by this extraordinary artisan, who devoted his entire existence to inventing and perfecting complicated clocks.

    Antide Janvier (1751 - 1835)

    Given his early horological training by his father, Antide Janvier furthered his knowledge with Abbot Tournier of Saint-Claude, who taught him Latin, Greek, mathematics and astronomy. The young boy soon revealed exceptional aptitude, being a quick learner, and skilled in restoration and design. In 1766, at the age of only 15, he constructed a moving sphere that he presented two years later to the members of the Besançon Academy of sciences, who were quite impressed. Later he studied with M. Devanne, constructing several planetary spheres, including one particularly remarkable one that resulted in his being presented to Louis XV. In 1783 the Count de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, named him “Horloger Mécanicien de Monsieur, frère du Roi”. The following year he presented Louis XVI with two astronomic clocks, receiving the title of “Horloger du Roy”. He survived the French Revolution and continued his activity, demonstrating great skill in horological and astronomical complications.

    All the successive French regimes accorded him protection for the rest of his life. As of the reign of Louis XVI, by 1784, he had chambers in Versailles, and in 1786 he was awarded lodgings at the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs du Roi, in the rue Bergère in Paris; the Revolutionary government gave him lodgings in the Louvre; and Napoléon, as First Consul, accorded him permanent lodgings in the Palais de l’Institut, overlooking the Seine.

    In 1789 Louis XVI purchased an extraordinary astronomical clock from him, of which only a fragment has survived. Placed in the apartments of Louis XVI in the Tuileries, it was on display from 1793 to 1802, in the Museum’s Grande Galerie de Peinture. In 1802, it returned to the fourth salon of the Grands Appartements in the Tuileries palace, which had been Napoléon’s study. Louis XVIII had it transferred to the second salon, the Salon de la Paix, and Charles X returned it to the fourth salon. It remained in the Tuileries until its destruction in the 1870 fire that razed the palace. Janvier was responsible for its maintenance from 1789 to 1819.

    In the same category