France, Louis XVI period
Chased and gilt bronze
The dial is enamelled and signed « Gille L’ainé à Paris »
This desk clock, in chased and gilt bronze, represents a winged Eros petting one of the birds of a dove’s couple. Wearing a winged helmet, wings are also attached to his ankles with the help of laces, as well as a quiver to his right arm. He emerges from a cloud in front of which stands a white enamelled dial framed with a traceries frieze and surmounted by a garland of flowers, with Roman numbers for the hours and Arabic for the minutes. It is signed « Gille L’ainé à Paris ».
The overall rests on four feet of gilt bronze as well as a double plinth with a border adorned of a rosette in the centre, framed with a groove and surmounted of a second frieze with heart stripes pattern. This base rests on a counter base of black marble adorned of chased and gilt bronze with traceries embellished by leaves, discontinued with a diamond tip motif.
The theme of love
The second half of the 18th century was marked by a strong craze for the theme of love, often treated by the most famous sculptors of the period such as Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, Étienne Maurice Falconet, Augustin Pajou, Jean-Jacques Caffieri or Louis-Simon Boizot and Claude-Michel Clodion. This theme is also very present in the decorative arts. Indeed, some famous sculptors regularly provided models to the bronze-makers which were then integrated into artworks like here.
In the 18th century, particularly during the reign of Louis XVI, there are a large number of clocks adorned with one or more figures of small putti such as here, the presence of attributes enabling to reveal the main idea of the author of the model.
A representation of the Love messenger
The principal motif of this clock seems to make the synthesis of the depiction of Mercure and Cupid. Indeed, the presence of a winged helmet and of laces attached to his ankles make a direct reference to the traditional representation of Mercure. God of the thieves and of travels, he is also the messenger of the other gods, which is evoked here.
Moreover, he wears a quiver attached to his right arm, attribute traditionally associated to Cupid, son of Venus and Mars (of the latin cupido, “desire”) in the Roman mythology. Devoted servitor of his mother, this motif makes reference to the legend which, according to the mythology, wanted that anyone who touched the arrows of Cupid, falls in love. It is associated to a couple of doves which left animal he pets. The representation of these birds confirms this theme, because they are in association to Venus, which they were reputed, pulling the chariot.
Pierre Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Âge au XXe siècle, Paris, Les Éditions de l’amateur, 1997.
Elke Niehüser, French Bronze Clocks, Atglen, Schiffer, 1999.
Hans Ottomeyer et Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Munich, Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1986, p.162.
Tardy, La pendule française dans le monde, Paris, Tardy, 1994 (7e édition revue et complétée).
Pierre Verlet, Les Bronzes dorés du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Picard, 1999 (2e édition).