A rare Charles X gilt bronze mantel clock of eight day duration signed on the white enamel dial Joseph Guillet à Grenoble. The dial with Roman and Arabic numerals and a fine pair of gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes. The movement with silk thread suspension, anchor escapement, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel. The case showing the dial set within a fauteuil en gondola with sabre shaped legs, swan arms and a gondola-shaped back, cast with a scallop, scrolls and serpents. Standing in the chair is a young winged Cupid dressed as a priest with a capuchin monk’s habit and hood and holding up a flaming heart in his right hand. He looks down to a young woman wearing a long dress and a veil over her head, kneeling in front of an ecclesiastical stand, mounted with a flaming torch, on which is an open book and beside it is a tall stand from which hangs a lamp. The figures and furnishings on a rectangular octagonal-shaped base cast at centre with a flying winged cherub holding in front of him in his right hand a rose on which is a butterfly while also holding chains in the other hand. The figure within an octagonal frame flanked by foliate scrolls, with stylised vases with handles issuing from foliate scroll mounts on the angles and a wreath at either end, the whole on toupie feet
Paris, date circa 1825
Height 39 cm, width 32 cm, depth 9.5 cm
Designers of clock cases at the end of the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth centuries constantly came up with new concepts and forms, of which this case is a novel idea. Whilst the underlying subject concerns love, it also brings into the equation the contrast between secular and ecclesiastical love. Standing in the fauteuil, which could also be mistaken for a chariot, is the figure of the winged Cupid who, dressed in a habit and hood, takes on the role of a friar or priest. He is in the act of delivering a sermon to a penitently looking woman who kneels to the left, but he holds up a flaming heart while she appears to be looking toward a prayer book, but it is in fact Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). The book which had been written by the ancient poet Ovid (43 BC – 17/18 AD) offers advice about how to conduct the art of love. Divided into three volumes, the first book of Ars Amatoria shows how a man may find a woman. In book two, Ovid describes how to keep her while the third volume gives women advice on how to win and keep the love of a man. The dual aspects of love, whether spiritual or physical love, are referred to on the clock base where in one hand Cupid holds a rose, a symbol of love; on it a butterfly perches – the butterfly was a symbol of Psyche who symbolised the soul but also fell in love with Cupid. In contrast Cupid also holds in his other hand a chain, sometimes used in art to symbolise man enslaved by his baser, earthly desires.
Another interesting aspect of the case is the fauteuil en gondola in which Cupid stands. With its seemingly carved swan arm rests, sabre legs and gondola-shaped back, it compares with a number of similarly shaped Empire chairs. In particular a set of four supplied by Jacob-Desmalter for Josephine Bonaparte’s boudoir at Malmaison, made after a design by the architect and ornamentaliste Charles Percier (illustrated in Denise Ledoux-Lebard, “Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle”, 2000, p. 335).
Surprisingly little is recorded about the Grenoble clockmaker Joseph Guillet (d. 1840), who is not listed in either Tardy or G. H. Baillie’s dictionaries of French clockmakers. Joseph Guillet is however referred to in the “Annuaire Statistique de la Cour Royale de Grenoble et du Département de l’Isère” of 1839 as a horloger established in Grenoble’s Grand rue no. 8. Further recent research also reveals that he married Marie Eymard and that they had at least one son named Jean-Joseph Guillet (1804-45), who also became a clockmaker.