Iouna Zek, "Bronzes d'Ameublement et Meubles Français Achetés par Paul Ier pour le Château Saint-Michel de Saint-Petersbourg en 1798-99" in "Bulletin de la Société de 1'Histoire de 1'Art Français", 1994, p. 146, pl. 9, illustrating an identical clock in Pavlovsk Palace, near St. Petersburg.
An important Louis XVI gilt bronze and rouge griotte marble mantel clock of eight day duration signed on the dial Lépine Place des Victoires No.12 and on the backplate Lépine à Paris No 4392, the white enamel with Roman and Arabic numerals and inner calendar ring for the 31 days of the month, gilt brass moon hands for the hours and minutes and a blued steel pointer for the calendar indications. The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour, with outside count wheel.
The superb case attributed to Pierre Philippe Thomire representing Erigone Consumed by Love incorporating the clock drum within rockwork, surmounted by the reclining figure of Erigone holding a thyrsus and supported by the standing figure of Cupid with quiver around his waist beside bunches of grapes above a tambourine and wine flowing from an upturned urn, garlands of ivy and a frog and lizard below the dial, the whole upon a marble plinth set with urns at either end and centred by a mounted frieze depicting scenes of a youthful Bacchus in his chariot, the plinth supported on the backs of four recumbent panthers on a rectangular white marble base on turned feet
Paris, date circa 1790
Height 59.5 cm, width 64 cm, length 19.5 cm.
The magnificent sculptured case was almost certainly made by fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843). This attribution is not only based on its style and quality but on attributions given to an identical case, (with movement by Laguesse and dial by the eminent enameller, Dubuisson), which was supplied to Tsar Paul I. The Tsar's clock was delivered to his newly built palace of St Michel, St. Petersburg by the Parisian mercband-mercier Guillaume Culot as part of a larger delivery on 8th October 1799. The Tsar's original bill described it accordingly: "caisse no.109, no.16.1 dite pendule représentant Erigone enivrée par l'Amour, 24 pouces de hauteur et même proportion de largeur, base en griote d'Italie, porte 4 panthères qui soutiennent un beau soc de marble verd de mer richement décoré, sur Ie soc un rocher en bronze doré porte le tamour, au dessus deux belles figures représentant Erigone et 1'Amour attributes de Bachantes et mouvement à ½ seconde......... 1752 [roubles]." Although the bill and original inventory do not name the bronzier, it has been subsequently given to Thomire by A.M.Koutchoumov, in "Pavlovsk, Le Palais et le Parc", 1976 and confirmed by Iouna Zek, of the Hermitage Gallery, op. cit. pp.141-168. Culot was one of six marchands-merciers to supply items for St Michel. In total he sent over 32 cases, which included 6 clocks, five of which had movements by Laguesse and according Iona Zek had bronze cases by or almost certainly by Thomire. Interestingly there is another clock by Lépine in a sculptured case representing Diana, which is also attributed to Thomire (and believed to have been delivered to Marie-Antoinette; illustrated Tardy, p.74). Anthony North, assistant curator of metalwork, silver and jewellery at the Victoria and Albert, compares the latter to support the attribution of Thomire to the Erigone clock.
The case tells the mythological story of Erigone. According to legend she was the daughter of Icarius an Athenian. Both she and Icarius welcomed Bacchus, with Erigone. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses Bacchus god of wine, fell in love with Erigone and visited her disguised as a bunch of grapes. Bacchus also taught Icarius how to cultivate the vine and to make wine. Icarius then offered the newly made wine to neighbouring shepherds, who on feeling its effect believed that they had been poisoned and therefore killed Icarius. Stricken with grief and unable to find her father, Erigone sought aid from her father's dog, Maera who led her to his body. She then hung herself from a tree above her father's grave. According to certain narratives Maera also killed himself by jumping into a well and in turn the Athenian virgins took their own lives until Erigone's ghost was appeased. After consulting the Delphic oracle, the Athenians punished the shepherds and honoured Erigone by initiating a feast at which small disks decorated with heads (known as oscilla) were suspended from trees. It was also said that Erigone was transformed into the constellation Virgo, her father into Boötes and Maera the dog into Canicula (Procyon).
The movement was made by one of the very finest French clockmakers Jean-Antoine Lépine (1720-1814), who was appointed clockmaker to both King Louis XV and Louis XVI for whom he supplied a large number of clocks. Lépine was also patronised by leading figures of his day including the comtesse d'Artois and de Provence, many French aristocracy as well as the Spanish, British and Swedish royalty. His pieces are now in the world's finest collections including the Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire Brussels, the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon in Dresden, the Victoria and Albert Museum London, the Musée d'Horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds, Basle Museum, the Musée du Louvre, Musée du Cognacq-Jay, Palais de l'Elysée, Paris as well as Château de Versailles and the Spanish, Swedish and English Royal Collections.
Born in Challex, Lépine began his horological career in nearby Geneva. In circa 1744 he travelled to Paris, where he was apprenticed to André Caron (1697-1775), the King's clockmaker. He married Caron's daughter in 1756 and was promptly made a partner in his father-in-law's business. He was received as a maître in 1762 by decree, exempting him from lack of apprenticeship when he took over Caron's business. At about the same time he was appointed the coveted position of Horloger du Roi et du Garde-Meuble de la Coronne. Until 1772 he operated from rue Saint-Denis and then transferred his business several times until 1789 when it moved to 12 Place des Victoires.
Since the dial is signed with his address at Place des Victoires No 12, where he moved to in 1789 (having previously been at Rue aux Fosses St Germain) we can date the completion of this clock soon after 1789. The dial is also similar to other of Lépine's dials of this period. Previously he had tended to use Arabic numbers but reverted back to Roman numerals after 1789 and also introduced a highly individual decoration, encircling the number 1, as we see here, It is unclear as to why this was used; although the assumption is that it was to create an aesthetic balance with its opposite number XI; Lépine seems the only clockmaker to have used this devise. The ornate, flowing design of the case is typical of the Louis XVI style and is of a similar date to the clock, i.e. circa 1790, From Iona Zek's description of Paul I's clock, we know that it had originally been owned by a member of the French aristocracy, Royalty or wealthy emigré. One can probably assume that this clock, with movement by Lépine was also owned by a similarly wealthy client, and perhaps should be considered the superior since Lépine was one of the most eminent in his field.