- AN IMPORTANT, VERY RARE AND SMALL GILT BRASS DRUM CLOCK PROBABLY BLOIS
FIRST HALF 16TH CENTURY
Henri Michel - Christie's New York, April 18, 1984, lot 269.
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.