A 17th Century gilt brass table clock
Lot 118*
A very rare and important first half of the 17th Century continental gilt brass automata table clock with geared armillary sphere
Sold for £117,600 (US$ 143,326) inc. premium

Lot Details
A very rare and important first half of the 17th Century continental gilt brass automata table clock with geared armillary sphere A very rare and important first half of the 17th Century continental gilt brass automata table clock with geared armillary sphere A 17th Century gilt brass table clock A 17th Century gilt brass table clock A 17th Century gilt brass table clock A 17th Century gilt brass table clock A 17th Century gilt brass table clock
A very rare and important first half of the 17th Century continental gilt brass automata table clock with geared armillary sphere
The rectangular case surmounted by a subsidiary 24 hour dial with shaped blued steel hand reading against a Roman scale I to XII twice, geared via the central arbor to an armillary sphere with sun pointer to the centre reading against a calendar dial set at an angle and centred by an equatorial ring, hinged, and engraved with calendar and zodiac sale, all on a turned gilt brass socle to a platform engraved with two pairs of helmets, one pair surrounded by the initials 'J', 'B' and 'AV', the platform supported by four engraved freestanding Doric columns forming a canopy for the realistically modelled lion, his mane running freely to the floor, his tail curved back along the length of his back and with well modelled claws, his eyes beneath their raised brows moving from left to right and back again in time with the swing of the pendulum and every hour his articulated jaw opening in time with the strike of the bell in the movement below. The main rectangular body of the clock set to each of the corners with pairs of pilasters gently tapering to stepped bases, on a shaped and moulded base engraved with male and female portrait medallions, on a horizontally-hatched background with further fruit and foliate decoration, the base supported by four cast lions set at an angle to each corner.

The dial
The main dial with five inch silvered chapter ring running from I to XII in the inner edge and 13 to 24 to the outer edge, the minute band with alternate cross hatching and dependent half hour marks, enclosing a mid 18th century replacement centre, gilded and with engraved decoration of ho-ho birds amongst foliage, with worked steel hour and minute hands.

The dial to the rear with outer silvered scale running from I to XII twice enclosing a gilt 1-24 hour dial, another, silvered running from I to XXIV, all centred by a revolving disc with shaped peripheral pointer and parcel-gilt centre showing day and night time periods read in conjunction with a turned steel pointer mounted on a cam in order to raise and lower the pointer and thereby give more precise details of daylight hours, the plate further set with twin subsidiary dials for zodiacal information. Each dial plate fixed to the front and back plates by rectangular-section brass feet latched with steel catches.

The movement
The brass rectangular plates with split frontplate, united by six square-section steel pillars screwed with hexagonal nuts, the going train wound indirectly in the lower right hand corner of the main dial, with gut fusee to brass wheels of four crossings terminating in a later verge escapement, the short bob pendulum suspended from a cock at the rear of the clock, and mounted with an arm to activate the roving eyes of the lion above. The striking train wound through the top left hand corner of the main dial to a gut fusee operated via a countwheel set to the frontplate and striking on the bell mounted to the underside of the base, with lever mounted on the hammer arbor to actuate the lions jaw with each strike of the hour 51cms (1ft 8ins) high


  • Provenance:
    Sothebys London 27th May 1967 from the Feil Collection. Sold to Patch for £4,400.
    Sothebys London 8th December 1969 the property of P Van Alfen. Thence to the family of the current owner.

    During the late 16th and the first half of the 17th century, continental makers based mainly in Germany and France specialised in gilt brass table clocks with engraved cases. The best of these had astronomical dials and some were also made with automata. To the best of our knowledge, this clock is unique in having the armillary sphere and automata combination. The armillary sphere is geared to the main movement by a vertical steel arbor that runs up the front right hand side of the movement and up through the front right hand column of the canopy. It is powered by a cocked worm-drive acting against a gear on the frontplate of the movement linked to the fusee. The power is transmitted at the other end of the arbor through a series of horizontal wheels mounted in the ceiling of the lion's canopy, they terminate at the base of the central axis of the armillary sphere and so drive both the sphere and the twenty-four hour dial at the apex, which is also geared to give the correct time above.

    Lightly scratched to the underside of the upper stage is what appears to be a restorers name, 'Selloi' and the date 1762. The inside of the left hand panel is also scratched 'Gauche'. Looking at the style and subject matter of the engraving to the dial centre, it is most probable that 'Selloi' was responsible for the replacement dial-centre some 250 years ago. There are numerous filled holes within the movement and it is most likely that when new, the clock had another function legible from the dial centre - and bearing in mind the armillary sphere an astolabe dial seems most likely.

    To see the clock running now is quite mesmerising, with a surprise every hour that still enchants. To a 17th century audience that, in all probability, had never even seen a lion, it must have been a magical experience.

Saleroom notices

  • This clock was exhibited in the Musee Des Arts et Metiers, Paris in 1954, as part of the Charliat Collection.
Auction information

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