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The Avignon Clock
  • Mantel clock
  • The Avignon Clock
  • Pierre Gouthière (1732 - 1813) , Case Maker
  • Louis-Simon Boizot (1743 - 1809), Designer, (model of case)
    Nicolas-Pierre Guichon Delunésy (active between: c. 1764), Movement Maker
    Joseph Coteau (1740 - 1812), Enameller, (dial)
    Pierre Masson (active between: c. 1767), Spring Maker
  • France
  • Date: 1771
  • Medium: Gilt bronze, Levanto rosso marble, modern pink silk, brass, glass and enamel
  • Object size: 68.5 x 59 x 33.8 cm
  • Inv: F258
  • Location: Oval Drawing Room
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Further Reading
  • An extraordinary example of the skills of the Parisian bronze-worker Pierre Gouthière (1732–1813), and considered to be one of his masterpieces, this clock is an example of the way in which clock cases were increasingly treated as pieces of figurative sculpture in their own right in the second half of the eighteenth century, and of the role of neoclassical sculptors in decorative art of the period. Louis-Simon Boizot (1743–1809) had just returned from Rome in 1771 and had yet to make his name in wider circles, but was commissioned to make the terracotta model for the clock, from which the gilt-bronze model was made.

    We do not know in which foundry the clock case was cast but Gouthière most likely supervised this complicated process which required a number of different moulds, and he was certainly responsible for assembling the separate elements and for the chasing and gilding. The different textures of skin, feathers, water, foliage and harsh rock face which Gouthière has achieved are remarkable and have added a depth and dynamism to the sculpture. Unusually, he has left his ‘signature’ on the back of the clock, which gives some indication of the pride he must have felt in this commission and perhaps the pride the city council took in its execution.

    The clock is remarkable for how much is known about both its commissioning and its execution. It was presented by the grateful city of Avignon to Jean-Louis-Roger, marquis de Rochechouart (1717–1776), a senior military figure who had been commanded by Louis XV to take possession of Avignon, which had been under papal jurisdiction since the Middle Ages. In April 1771 the council decided to make a gift of a clock to him and commissioned the successful Parisian jeweller, Ange Aubert, originally from Avignon, to have it made in Paris on its behalf. Aubert was well placed to know the best artists and craftsmen in the capital and did not disappoint his compatriots; within the year he was able to deliver this work of art, an extraordinary achievement by everyone involved.

    The allegorical case is cast and chased as a rocky hill, at the base of which recline two figures symbolizing the rivers Rhône and Durance which flow through Avignon and bring wealth and abundance to the city, as evidenced by the cornucopia under the river god’s left arm. Power and strength are symbolized by Jupiter’s eagles supporting the clock, on which is placed Rochechouart’s coat-of-arms. The female figure clad in classical dress standing to the left of the dial symbolizes Avignon and crowns the coat-of-arms with a wreath of oak leaves.

    The clock movement is the work of Nicolas-Pierre Guichon Delunésy (master 1764). The movement is of great sophistication and includes a very early example of a half deadbeat escapement, and its completion in the comparatively short timescale allowed by Aubert was quite an achievement.