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Details & Cataloguing

I•DE•P
AN IMPORTANT, VERY RARE AND SMALL GILT BRASS DRUM CLOCK PROBABLY BLOIS FIRST HALF 16TH CENTURY

• one train movement with steel plates held by steel knop baluster pillars riveted to back plate and pinned to front plate, back plate with two pivoted latches to secure movement within case, pivot holes with brass bushings the great wheel rear pivot hole and the second and contrate wheel holes re-bushed, the four wheel train comprising: brass barrel with ratchet set-up ratchet wheel replaced with a brass one, brass fusee on the steel great wheel, steel strapwork, second wheel replaced with a brass one (the original would most probably have been steel with brass teeth), steel contrate wheel with brass teeth, steel escape wheel with brass teeth, escape wheel held between a potence replaced with a brass one and a steel potence with brass bushing and also with brass tip to hold the balance pivot, steel dumbbell balance replaced, pinned steel balance cock with brass bushing; the great wheel pivot projects through front plate to form two-leaf pinion engaging the hour wheel • the chapter ring made as one piece with case, stamped with Roman numerals I-XII and with touch pins at each numeral and pointed knob at XII, the removable central zone engraved in similar fashion to the case with arabesques and fitted with later steel hand in the style of a 17th century watch hand and underneath with later brass hour wheel • the cylindrical gilt-brass case with mouldings at top and bottom, finely engraved strapwork arabesques and knot possibly a cipher, and with door to view fusee, the friction-fitted lid similarly engraved and with winding hole • inside lid stamped I•DE•P in a rectangular punch


height 34.5mm, diameter 39.5mm
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Provenance

Henri Michel - Christie's New York, April 18, 1984, lot 269.

Catalogue Note

The maker's stamp on this clock is unrecorded but is possibly that of a member of the De Posey family of Blois, later clockmaker members of which were named Jacques and Isaac.  An attribution to Blois is further suggested by the construction employing a combination of steel and brass: steel wheels with brass teeth and steel plates with brass bushings also appear in a late Gothic table clock stamped 'Blois' formerly in the Time Museum. In addition, Henri Michel in his article 'A propos des permiers montres' stated that this clock was from Blois, but without substantiation. On the other hand, a very similar clock in the Historishes Museum, Basel, is signed 'Limoges.' Another very similar clock appears in Holbein's portrait of Georg Gisze in the Berlin Museum, dated 1532, thereby providing an approximate date for the present clock.

European clockmakers gradually learned that brass parts moving against steel produced less wear than steel against steel.  The late Gothic tradition in northern Europe was to make movements entirely of steel. This clock was made during the transitional period before they had arrived at the final solution of making the wheels entirely of brass.

In 1984,  this clock still had its original steel balance with t-shaped ends, a familiar form in sixteenth century French table clocks, surviving in several clocks by Platart.  The clock in Holbein's portrait  shows what the original hand looked like. The gilding is original and attractively preserved.

There is a 'standard' size for very small sixteenth century drum clocks, both French and German, approximately 60 millimetres in diameter. The present clock and the one in Basel appear to be the only surviving small ones, and the present clock appears to be the only small one to come onto the market within memory.  With a volume of 94.4 cubic centimetres, this clock would appear to be the smallest Renaissance drum clock, some 13.4 cubic centimetres smaller than the one in Basel.

Surrounded by clocks as we are today, it is difficult for us to recapture the sense of extraordinary chic enjoyed by small gilded table clocks in the sixteenth century. There seems to be no record of what they actually cost, but made only of non-precious metals as they were, it seems unlikely that it could have been very much.  Yet they took their places among the most precious possessions of their wealthy and royal owners, as is shown by Holbein's portrait of the very successful merchant Gisze with its symbols of wealth arrayed on the table where he is seated.  We may cite Titian's double portrait of Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabella with a very small tower clock on the table before them, a symbol of his love, as well as of the passage of time that would take her from him prematurely; Henry VIII's gift of a small gilded tower table clock as a wedding present to Anne Boleyn in 1533, now at Windsor; Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand II's gift of a gilded tower table clock to Grand Duchess Christian of Lorraine in the 1570's; Titian's portrait of 1536 of the Duchess of Urbino with her table clock next to her (Uffizi); and Sustermans' portrait of Maria Maddalena of Austria (Palazzo Pitti). Sometimes these clocks, especially the very small drum clocks, were so prized by their owners that they were shown holding them, as in Primaticcio's portrait of Henri II (Musee Conde, Chantilly) and Titian's portrait of a member of the Contarini family (Sao Paolo).  Table clocks appear in many more distinguished personages and vanitas pictures, where they were crowded together with precious objects and also symbolise time's passage. Even in the seventeenth century, when they were much more common, they retained their aura and were included in many portraits, such as Champaigne's portrait of Cardinal Richelieu (Chantilly) and Velazquez's portrait of Mariana of Austria (Prado).

We are grateful to the late Winthrop Edey for his cataloguing of this lot.     

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