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French Empire Mantel Clock depicting Orpheus

French Empire Mantel Clock depicting Orpheus

The movement has an eight-day going train with anchor escapement. The striking mechanism on the locking plate strikes the hours fully on the hour and every half hour with a single strike. Signed Le Sieur à Paris on the enamel dial. The hours are indicated by Roman numerals and the minutes by Arabic numerals.

Four legs with lion claw feet and acanthus leaves support the rectangular base of patinated bronze. The front of the base is mounted with a bronze bas-relief plaque depicting scenes of Orpheus in the underworld while the sides are adorned with ornaments of a lyre within a laurel wreath. The clock’s case on the base is rectangular, formed as a classical pedestal or tomb. To the right of it stands a full-length patinated bronze figure of Orpheus, to be identifiable by the lyre on his back. In sorrow, Orpheus rests his right elbow on the tomb. In his right hand he holds the laurel wreath presented to winners in Ancient Greece’s competitions in music and poetry. Both Orpheus’ attributes are made of gilded bronze. Patinated folds of drapery hanging across and over the left of the clock case. The case and the base below are both decorated with various classicising ormolu mounts, including a pair of flaming torches linked by a ribbon-tied foliate swag with flowers, winged serpents, crossed torches, folds of drapery and quivers.

On this mantel clock, two traditions of depicting the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice have been combined. Firstly, the bas-relief panel on the front of the base features Orpheus in his attempt to bring Eurydice back from the underworld. Orpheus was a legendary poet and musician from Thrace who was known for his beautiful singing and lyre-playing, with which he could even charm wild animals. He was married to the tree nymph Eurydice. However, she was killed by a viper bite during their wedding feast. In search of his bride, Orpheus descended into the Underworld where he passed through the gates by lulling the multi-headed guardian hellhound Cerberus to sleep with his lyre music. Hades was so enchanted by the lyre’s song that it convinced him to return Eurydice to Orpheus and allow him to take his bride back to the world’s surface. Under one condition: Orpheus was to walk in front of her and not look at her until both of them had reached the day light. On the way up, Orpheus guided Eurydice and continually asked questions in order to make sure that his bride was indeed following him. The moment that she did not answer immediately, Orpheus feared she was gone and thus looked over his shoulder to find that his bride had simply followed him but that by breaking his promise he had now lost his bride forever.
The figurative scene on the relief panel depicts part of this story as follows: at the left, Orpheus passes by the three-headed Cerberus and is led to Hades by Amor. To the right, we see a putto with a burning torch ushering the veiled Eurydice to her husband Orpheus.

The second representation of this tragic myth is formed by the striking full-length, patinated bronze figure of Orpheus as he stands mourning the definite loss of his beloved until his own death. On the case, further mounted motifs allude to her death, such as the overturned torches and the writhing serpents that hold Eurydice in the underworld.

The clock was made by the Parisian horloger Lesieur, who worked in Paris in the Rue de la Verrerie from 1812 until 1820 and subsequently from 1830 to 1850. Unfortunately, little is known about Lesieur, although he must have been incredibly active as many fine timepieces carry his signature. The bronzes are attributed to Louis-Isodore Choiselat (1784-1853), better known as Choiselat-Gallien. By the age of twenty-five, he had left his native town Provins for Paris and was working for the bronzier Matthieu Gallien in the Rue de la Verrerie. The workshop was renamed Choiselat-Gallien when he married Gallien’s daughter in 1812. Three years later, the business relocated to the Rue de Richelieu. In that same year, 1815, Choiselat was presented the title Fabricant du bronzes de Monsieur, frère du Roi. From then on, royals and nobility and many in their circles found their way to the bronziers. Choiselat must have already met the horloger Lesieur during his time in the Rue de la Verrerie; they collaborated frequently.

Tardy, Dictionnaire des horlogers Français, p. 411

French Empire Mantel Clock depicting Orpheus
Price on request
ca. 1815
gilt and patinated bronze, enamel dial
Le Sieur à Paris
69 x 44 x 17 cm

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