clock evokes all the drama and beauty of a Gothic bell tower. And it even works, chiming the quarter hours
and intoning the hours in a variation of the Westminster chimes (that really
originated in the bastion of Gothic architecture, Cambridge, England!).
our years in the antiques business, this is only one of two Gothic long case
clocks we have ever offered. This one
had been on an estate near Fontainbleau, marking the passage of time for more
than a century for generations of inhabitants.
Kids running late for school, parents enjoying a peaceful evening
together after tucking in their offspring, birthdays, christenings, weddings,
and funerals - such a clock would have been a witness to all of these and
fascinating to consider how a long case clock, what we Americans might call a
grandfather clock, came to be such an important part of the furnishings of a
19th century home. With our
wristwatches, digital alarm clocks, time-displays on cell phones, we are seldom
far from knowing exactly what time it is.
In an earlier era, only the nobility had quality timepieces in the form
of pocket watches or mantle clocks and the rest of society was dependent on the
local church's bells to know when it was time for mass or to bring the cows
home for milking. Bell towers were an
essential part of the landscape in areas such as Flanders where belfries are
still visible from town to town and were memorialized in the paintings of van
Eyck and van der Weyden. In addition to
keeping time, their height was essential for surveying the countryside and
seeing if an opposing army might be approaching.
clock is a triumph of the cabinet-maker's artistry incorporating the
architectural elements of Gothic bell towers and church steeples. Its design is based on a perfect square, stretching upward to a central toupie
with towers and crocketed finials at the front corners.
first attracted us to this clock were the intricately carved figures, one on
each side, at eye level. Contained
within niches reminiscent of the portals of Chartres or Notre Dame, these
figures are not, however, the saints we would find at Gothic cathedrals. Less refined and more down-to-earth, the one
on the right wears a hooded, knee-length robe and holds a book, while the one
on the left is similarly garbed but appears to be clutching a box.
the figures, and emerging from corbels that seem to imprison them, are the
upper bodies of two figures that are also hooded. Perhaps all four are meant to symbolize the workers who dwelled
atop bell towers and had the responsibility to ring the bells and maintain the
mechanisms? It is impossible to know,
but they lend a touch of realism and act as a contrast to the delicate tracery
or fenestrage that decorates the three visible sides of the case.
door to the central cabinet housing the clockworks is magnificently
carved. Eight lancet arches support a
circle, divided into eight lobes, and suggestive of the circular clock face at
the top. Above the circle is a broad
ogive arch crowned with the extended flame motif that lent its name to the
"flamboyant" style of Gothic architecture and furniture. Intricately carved and ingeniously
subdivided lancet arches provide the overall design, with those forming the top
of the door echoing those at its base.
either side of the door are pilasters, the lower parts of which are twisted and
decorated in a diagonal style reminiscent of the pillars inside Gothic
cathedrals. Atop the columns are the
pedestals on which the figures stand on their own columns, under carved
door on the lowest part of the case is even more exuberant in its evocation of
the flamboyant Gothic style. The broad,
central ogive arch is encased in a rectangular frame, above which the
"flame" at the top extends to right and left with oak leaves (a motif
repeated in the frieze just below the top of the cabinet). The ogive arch is subdivided into lancet
arches at the base, above which elongated lobes are filled with intricately
carved blossoms. The elaborate lock is
on the left side with tiny panels evoking, in miniature, the larger designs
found on the doors.
the sides of the clock are also intricately carved, using an overall tracery
design, emphasizes that this clock must have been a commission from a wealthy
devotee of Gothic design. Otherwise a
shortcut, such as plis-de-serviette panels, would have been used on parts of
the clock which would have been less likely to be viewed.
most compelling of all the aspects of this clock is that the time-keeping and
chiming work perfectly. The mechanism,
from F de S Paris Derose, has been scrupulously maintained over the centuries, as well as getting a clean
bill of health from a leading specialist in antique clocks since its arrival in
Texas. The keys for winding the clock
are intact. It is a simpler mechanism
than that of U.S. grandfather clocks - no complicated chains and counterweights
to keep this clock going and on time.
The inner circle of the clock face is itself a triumph of Gothic
decoration. Its design is divided into
four tear-drop shaped lobes of tracery, each of which is further segmented into
mouchettes, with the winding mechanism secreted into the lower lobes (at four,
six, and eight o'clock on the dial).
The hands are of metal, each with a different spear-like motif at the
Collection Bruno Perrier Haute Epoque (Catalog for Sale at Auction on April 6,
1992 at the Hôtel Drouot, Paris); Boccador, Jacqueline, Le Mobilier Français du
Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Editions d'Art Monelle Hayot
(Saint-Just-en-Chaussée, 1988); Thirion, Jacques, Le Mobilier du Moyen Age et
de la Renaissance en France (Editions Faton, Dijon, 1998); Viollet-le-Duc,
Eugène, Le Mobilier Médiéval (Georges Bernage, editor) (Editions Heimdal,