The Avignon Clock (F258)
The city of Avignon had been under Papal jurisdiction since 1309, but in June 1768 after a diplomatic dispute with the Papacy Louis XV ordered the governor of Provence and maréchal de camp, Jean-Louis-Roger, marquis de Rochechouart, to seize it on behalf of France and to expel the Jesuits. After he had successfully done this and been installed as governor, the city council wanted to show its gratitude by giving him a lavish present and commissioned this fabulous clock. Full of symbolism and executed by some of the greatest artists of the day, it is one of the finest clocks in the Wallace Collection.
The clock itself is integrated into a magnificent sculptural composition of gilt bronze, cast and chased as a rocky hill. At the base recline two figures embodying two rivers, the Rhône and the Durance, while at the summit a female figure crowns a shield emblazoned with Rochechouart’s coat-of-arms with a wreath of oak leaves. She represents the city of Avignon, and is identifiable from the crenellated crown she wears (an Ancient Roman symbol awarded to the soldier who first entered a besieged city) and the city’s coat of arms on the shield which she holds.
The use of classical imagery is characteristic of French works of art from this time. The first depiction of rivers in such a manner stretches back to the late Hellenistic period, but French artists and sculptors of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries referred to Roman or Italian Renaissance examples for their inspiration. Avignon herself is clothed in classical drapery; the coronet of oak leaves evokes the strength and might of Jupiter, the king of the gods, whose presence is reinforced by the two eagles below the clock; while the garland of laurel leaves and berries encircling the clock case symbolises Apollo, and was used by the Romans to denote martial victories.
Unusually for a gilt bronze clock of this period it is dated and signed not only by the maker of the clock movement, ‘Delunésy A Paris’ (Nicholas-Pierre Guichon Delunésy), but also by the sculptor, Louis-Simon Boizot, and by the chaser and gilder, Pierre Gouthière (see detail). It is extremely rare to find pieces that we can categorically attribute to Gouthière, whose exquisite gilding was highly sought after by royal and aristocratic patrons in France in the 1770s and early 1780s. He invented a method for gilding in a matt finish, which made the difference between the burnished and matt gold surfaces much more expressive. Gouthière was paid 9,200 livres for his work on this clock, six times more than Boizot.
The Avignon clock is in good working condition but it is our policy at the Wallace Collection not to keep the same clocks running all the time as over the long term this will wear out the movements; this clock is currently being rested.
Monday 8 and Tuesday 16 April at 1pm with Dr Helen Jacobsen
Peter Hughes, French Eighteenth-century Clocks and Barometers in the Wallace Collection (London, 1994)
Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Furniture (London, 1996)
Christian Baulez, ‘Pierre Gouthière’ in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen: die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus (Munich, 1986)