A masterpiece Louis XVI mantel clock, representing Bacchus as a child carried by two Satyrs
This spectacular clock stands in the typical pyramid shape of the neoclassical period; above the dial rises a wicker basket of woven were child Bacchus holding a bunch of grapes in his right hand, together with a tenderly embraced child Satyr. This passionate allegory of the happy hours with good wine is translated into an immediate and straightforward figurative language.
Two magnificent patinated bronze Satyrs of superb quality and charm stand on a gilded chessboard floor of great visual impact. On the Italian griotte marble oval basement front, there are several gilded bronze friezes. On the central, a large one, with two crossed Tirso (a stick that Dionysus carried), with alternating satyrs heads and maenads inserted in two gilded bronze chiselled frames.
The Satyrs act as bearers for the large clock that rests on a cloth draped in gilded bronze, adorned with vine leaves and bunches of grapes woven into a garland above the clock case. One might guess that the dark colour choice for the two Satyrs, which provides a strong contrast to the rest of the gilding, was used for aesthetic reasons; instead, Satyrs were usually created in dark red marble; antique literature often refers to the “red” colour of the Greek god Bacchus and his followers due to their wine consumption.
The oval Italian griotte marble is supported on a white statuary marble base with a delicate gilded bronze frame; the base rests on six fine chiselled gilded bronze tupie feet.
Bronzist: Pierre-Philippe Thomire
By examining the work’s quality, style, and execution, the clock could only have been done by a tiny circle of a significant bronze artist of the time. We cannot yet associate this masterpiece with a specific author, but many signs lead to Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843).
Our model is a variant of the ‘processional’ clock, such as the model conceived by Pierre-Philippe Thomire in 1788 with two vestal figures (see H. Ottomeyer & P. Pròschel, Vergoldete Bronzea, Vol. 1, Munich, 1986, p. 297, fig. 4.18.5).
Other variants with blackamoor figures include an example with figures of ‘Paul et Virginie’ from Bernardin De Saint-Pierre’s love story (see Musée Duesberg, Mons and P. Kjellberg, L’Encydopédie de La Pendute Franqaise, Paris, 1997, p. 358, figs B, C.); and the ‘Paul et Virginie’ clock supplied by Thomire to Napoleon in 1802. With its two embracing amorini the present clock also evokes the ‘Love’s Procession’ model of the 1780s, on which two goat-riding cherubs support a litter with a reclining bacchic figure above (see Ottomeyer & Pròschel, op. cit., p. 280, fig. 4.13.1).
Enamel dial by Joseph Coteau
The enamel dial is decorated with gilded garlands in the manner of Joseph Coteau: arabic numerals, lovely Luis XVI style hands pierced for hours, centre seconds, and blued date hand.
As evidence of the clock’s importance, the dial was realised by Joseph Coteau, who was the most important enamellist of his day. Coteau clock dials have a characteristic style due to their superior quality as to their subject. His most distinct decoration consisted of delicate numerals with small garlands of flowers. Coteau dials are extremely rare; they are sometimes “secretly” inscribed in either pen or brush on the reverse. In addition to their scarcity and supreme quality, his dials and enamel plaques only accompanied the most quality mechanisms. His work can be found in several European museums, including Mobilier National, Musee des Arts Decorative, Paris; Carnavelet Museum, Dijon Museum, and London at the Wallace Collection and Victoria Albert Museum.
The clock mechanism is based on a large circular brass full plate movement baluster-shaped movement pillars, 1 hammer / 1 bell, 2 barrels, pin wheel escapement, count wheel, silk string suspension, short heavy pendulum.
Grandchamps Fils signature
The signature Grandchamps Fils could belong to a Marchand Mercier. Starting from 18th century Marchands-Merciers played an important role in the decoration of noble palaces. They served as general contractors, designing and commissioning pieces of the most fashionable furniture, and as interior decorators. Probably, our clock could be commissioned by a Marchands-Merciers who held the exclusivity.
The famous Marchands Merciers
Throughout the eighteenth century, this category of merchants took on an increasingly important role in the panorama of the Parisian and, consequently, European luxury trade. Under the reign of Louis XV, these traders had already become the true arbiter of the worldly elegance of the time, able to constitute the necessary connection between the skill of luxury artisans and the refined taste of a demanding elite.
Their role consisted in designing luxurious objects, often using the most diverse materials, and entrusting their realisation to the best artists on the market: bronzes, clocks, furniture, plates, lacquers and porcelain mounted in gilded bronze, sophisticated furnishings explicitly designed to please the best French clientele and European.
The statutes of 1751 had recognised the Marchands-Merciers the right to trade in all carpentry works and goods with any brand or without brand and have them arrive, indiscriminately finished or unfinished, from outside the city and from foreign countries. Therefore, it is clear that free artisans, not able to sell their goods freely, depended on merchants or their colleagues.
- An identical dial by Coteau is showed in “Les Plus Belles PENDULE FRANCAISE” by Tardi, pg.257.
- For more material, please see: H. Ottomeyer & P. Proschel, Vergoldete Bronzen (Vol. 1, Munich 1986, p.297, fig. 4.18.5). Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1843)