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Museum Quality Mantel Clock “au bon sauvage” with Moving Eyes

Museale Kommodenuhr au bon sauvage mit Augenwender


Vienna, around 1800

carved, mounted and gilt lime wood base made of ebonized fruit wood, gilt fillet, alabaster bun feet
anchor escapement, Viennese grande sonnerie on wire gongs, repeater, turn-off for strike, automaton (moving eyes) coupled with the movement
24¾ in

The motif of the noble savage (“le bon sauvage”) arose from the deep yearning of an increasingly urbanized European society in the 18th century, a great longing for unspoiled nature, for harmony with creation, for a simple life; in short, for paradise lost. Famous explorers and the advance of colonization brought ever new insights into uncharted and exotic flora, fauna, and cultures. The travel log of the explorer who circumnavigated the world, de Bougainville (1771), the writings of the philosopher Rousseau (“Retour à la nature!”) and worldfamous novels such as “Robinson Crusoe” (1719), “Gulliver’s Travels” (1726), and “Paul et Virginie” (1788) awoke the desire for exoticism within the four walls of their readers, who were usually sophisticated and well to-do. The clock case designs “l’Afrique” and “l’Amerique” by Parisian bronzier Jean-Simon Deverberie were presumably among the very first clocks “au bon sauvage” and inspired outstanding Viennese wood carvers to create innovative variations. In the metropolis on the Danube, on the other hand, the effective contrast of a dark-skinned figure against the gilt clock case elements was seldom achieved by means of ormolu and patinated bronze. Instead, the preferred method here was masterfully carved limewood, partly ebonized and partly finished with gold leaf. Generally, mantel clocks such as these consisted of just one figure. Such rich figurative decoration, as exhibited by the depicted sculptural clock, is extremely rare. Two meticulously detailed, muscular bearers with palm skirts, pearl necklaces, and crowns of feathers carry the movement case in the form of a sedan cloaked in gently draped fabric. Resting on this sedan, with elegantly crossed legs, is an exotic queen, also adorned with a palm skirt, pearls and a crown of feathers, and holding a delicate parasol. She is using one hand to prop herself up on a bow with quiver. This and the dignified posture of the dark-skinned ruler demonstrate the European interest in the way of life and social circumstances in foreign climes. The eyes, which move with the swing of the pendulum (a so-called “moving eyes-automaton”) bestow the queen with additional vitality. Based on the high quality of workmanship and the rarity of the highly figurative motif, it is to be assumed that this piece was commissioned by a person belonging to the international aristocracy. This is supported by the fact that an almost identical sculptural clock – likely even by the very same master craftsman – can be found in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

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