AᅠGeorge IIIᅠPaste-SetᅠOrmolu Musical Automaton Clock, circa 1780, Signed by Peter Torckler.


LONDON - Nassir al Din Shah Qajar was a whimsical man. Nowhere was this more readily illustrated than in his personal household – the great Qajar court and haramsara. His trips to Europe in the late 19th century inspired him to imitate aspects of what he saw there – such as dressing his various wives in short ballerina skirts, or wanting a similar automaton clock to the one which is now in the collection of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild at the recently completed Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire.


A detail of the articulated ormolu elephant clock, part of the Treasures, Princely Taste sale in London.

The articulated ormolu elephant clock signed by Peter Torckler – one of the highlights of the Treasures sale in London on 4 July – is just the sort of folly that would satisfy His Majesty’s whim. This extraordinary jewel-studded creation has about as many functions as an iPad and will arouse a child-like wonder in anyone who stops to consider its elaborate craftsmanship. Not that His Majesty would have had too much time to sit around and look at it – he was an outdoor sort of chap, a horseman and a hunter who enjoyed surrounding himself with a large entourage.


His Majesty Nassir al Din Shah Qajar.


He was also known for a shrewd sense of humour and a sophisticated interest in writing, poetry and the finer arts.  He kept a journal (now published in several languages), was the first Persian monarch to be photographed and enjoy photography, and he travelled extensively – as much for political reasons as for his own enlightenment. It’s not difficult to imagine him standing before his fabulous ormolu clock and chuckling at the funny movement of the elephant’s trunk or the wiggle of its tail. That said, he would have also asked pertinent questions about its functions and engineering and encouraged a Persian craftsman to take note. His princely taste and fanciful imagination endowed 19th century Persia with some of the finest art and artefacts we see from that culture today. As Keats once memorably said: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever" and what captured the royal fancy in the 1890s will undoubtedly find a similarly sophisticated princely buyer in the 21st century.