A rare and important Empire gilt bronze chariot clock of eight day duration by the esteemed clockmaker Louis Moinet housed in a magnificent case by Pierre-Philippe Thomire, signed on the white enamel chapter ring below 6 o'clock Thomire et Cie and also Moinet, with Roman numerals and blued steel Breguet hands for the hours and minutes set within the wheel of a chariot which is cast at centre with alternating arrows and stylised butterfly wings at the 5 minute intervals.
The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour, with outside count wheel. The superb case portraying the figure of a semi-nude Venus seated in a cockleshell-shaped chariot beneath a drapery arch and looking backward into a mirror which she holds in her left hand, the front of the chariot mounted either side by a pair of dolphins and at centre by a pair of love birds, the chariot drawn by Cupid holding a flaming torch and also pushed from behind by Cupid, the whole on a stepped rectangular plinth elaborately cast at each end of the frieze by a young putto, each having fired an arrow that points toward a wreath and from there to a central wreath enclosing a pair of winged hearts, the plinth supported on winged feet with lion head masks
Paris, date circa 1815-20
Height 63 cm, length 58.5 cm, depth 23 cm.
The importance of this remarkable clock is not only due to its rarity, the high quality of its casting and chasing but also on account of its makers. They were the esteemed clockmaker Louis Moinet (1768-1853) and the preeminent fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), who often worked in collaboration on more important clocks. The case model appears to be unique, suggesting that the clock was made as a special commission, possibly for a member of the Imperial family. Furthermore it is likely that it was intended to be given to a loved one since the case features many associated attributes. Firstly the main subject is Venus, the mythological goddess of love who according to legend was born of the sea, hence the cockleshell-shaped chariot mounted by dolphins. The mirror, which beautiful goddess holds, refers to the Toilet of Venus, while the pair of love birds at the front of the chariot as well as personifications of Cupid, the flaming torch, arrows and hearts again symbolise love.
As noted the clock movement was made by Louis Moinet, a highly esteemed horologist, inventor, scholar and as a maker of precision instruments became President of the Chronometry Society in Paris. Born in Bourges into a prosperous farming family, he spent five years in Rome where he studied architecture, sculpture and painting. As such Moinet was well versed in the arts and for this reason had a strong understanding for the aesthetic importance of each of his clocks. After his return to Paris he became a professor of fine art at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. He also continued to study watchmaking both in Paris and Switzerland. While in Paris, Moinet worked with the esteemed clockmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) as his technical secretary. Breguet entrusted Moinet with his notes and drawings with the intention that they were to be published. Moinet remained with Breguet until the latter's death but Breguet's treatise remained unpublished. In 1848 Moinet published his own treatise entitled "Nouveau Traité Général Astronomique et Civil d'Horlogerie Théorique et Pratique", which Breguet's son maintained was based on his father's own work. There followed a number of lawsuits, which financially destroyed Moinet. However this did not distract from his technical accomplishments. Among the many he remade a Ferdinand Berthoud regulator almost in its entirety, invented many horological devises including an optical means for checking the shape of teeth in clock and watch wheels and in 1851 presented a chronometer at the Great Exhibition of London.
Such was Moinet's standing that he worked closely with such eminent men as the astronomer Jérôme Lalande, the clockmaker and magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin as well as the bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire. He and Thomire were responsible for making a number of highly important clocks notably one for Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806, known as the Napoleon Clock (National Museum Speelklok, Utrecht), which displays the moon phases inside the day hand by means of a tiny ivory ball. Moinet and Thomire also collaborated in the creation of a multi-dial skeleton clock for the King of Naples as well as others for George IV of England and Tsar Alexander of Russia. While in Paris Thomas Jefferson acquired a clock by Moinet housed in a figural case by Thomire, which accompanied the American President during two terms in the White House. Because of that when James Monro became President he too commissioned a clock by Moinet and Thomire in c. 1817.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire, whose firm of Thomire et Cie created this magnificent case, was the greatest craftsman of his age to work in gilt bronze. Having been patronised by Louis XVI and many of the French aristocracy, Thomire's fame and notoriety was propelled to even greater heights after the Revolution when in 1806 he became the first bronzier to be awarded a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l'Industrie. In 1809 he won another gold medal and was also appointed ciseleur de l'Empereur. In addition to Napoleon, Thomire received numerous commissions from the Emperor's family, subsequently Louis XVIII and many foreign royal courts.
In response to growing demand Thomire became an associate and then in 1804 purchased the extensive business owned by Martin-Eloi Lignereux, the famous marchand-mercier formerly associated with Dominique Daguerre. Soon his newly named company Thomire-Duterme et Cie was employing a work force of about 800; it had a workshop at rue Boucherat and a showroom at rue Taitbout, from where Thomire retailed a large range of decorative objects inspired by antiquity including clock cases, candelabra, extravagant centrepieces as well as monumental urns and vases. Like many Parisian trades his firm encountered financial difficulties due Napoleon's continuing wars. Soon after 1815 the partnership with Duterme was dissolved and under its newly styled name of Thomire et Cie, the firm thrived once more under the restored Bourbons. 1823 saw Thomire winning a gold medal for sculpture in Paris as well as his retirement from the firm though he continued to produce sculptures and regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon until 1834. His business was continued by his two sons-in-law and then his grandsons up until 1852 though Thomire's legacy has continued for much longer.