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Prospective purchasers are advised that several co… Read more THE ROTHSCHILD SPHÈRE MOUVANTE OF M. CASTELTHE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN


CASE: the bombé case with quartered kingwood panels, the panels below with ormolu medallions depicting respectively the Four Seasons and garlanded with appropriate seasonal fruit and flowers, two side panels detaching for interior access, the square plinth below with large ormolu winged putti to each angle, each seated on a cloud and holding attributes and personifying sciences relating to the clock, the plinth with ormolu-framed panels (two glazed, two now veneered), resting on four ball and claw feet; the upper case for the mechanisms formed as an ormolu-mounted brass (formerly copper) drum, with quatrefoil and lattice decoration to the front and acanthus and guilloché with flowerheads to the sides, the sides also with convex glasses (one lacking) within ormolu stiff leaf frames, with vacant shield cartouches above, with ribbon-tied reeded ormolu frames around possibly later or altered brass bezels and convex glasses for dials to front and rear, the time dial with vacant scroll and cartouche mount above and the calendrical dial with inset silvered plaque inscribed '1779' to the cartouche and scroll mount; the orrery and its gearing above (see below), all the upper section within an octangular gilt-metal framed glass cover formed of two sections, this in turn surmounted by a later ormolu dome (signed 'Blake' four times inside) topped by the original figure of Father Time with a scythe TIME DIAL: replaced painted chapter ring showing hours and minutes and with skeletonised centre, engraved ormolu hands showing equation of time, the minute hands inscribed respectively 'SOLAR TIME' and 'MEAN TIME', blued steel seconds hand (all hands replaced), the centre of the dial showing the engraved ormolu annual calendar ring also with signs of the zodiac, the date indicated by a blued steel pointer CALENDRICAL DIAL: replaced painted year calendar ring showing the months, their number of days, deity and the sign of the zodiac, an inner disc giving the days of the week, its centre with aperture for engraved and silvered moonphase on a blue-painted and starred background, engraved ormolu day of week hand, blued steel calendar hand ORRERY: the orrery plinth with ormolu-framed glazed panels showing its gearing, the orrery above within an armillary sphere formed by the equinoctial ('CERCLES DES EQUINOXES'), solstitial ('CERCLE DES SOLTICES'), celestial equator ('CERCLE EQUATEUR') and ecliptic ('CERCLE ECLIPTIQUE') rings, this latter applied with a finely pierced and engraved annual ring showing the months of the year, and zodiacal calendar; the orrery with revolving orbital rings for the planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury), all of painted ivory and mounted within individual rings (Saturn and Jupiter also with five and four satellites respectively), each ring inscribed with the planet's name and the duration of its orbit, the system centred by a gilt sun; the Earth ring carrying its own sub-assembly of gearing, the terrestrial globe itself silver and engraved with graduated equator, nine cities given, partial Australian coastline, this tilted on its axis within zodiac and date rings, a twenty-four hour time dial with blued steel pointer set above, orbited by a painted ivory moon which revolves and rises and falls to show respectively the phase and elevation of the moon MOVEMENTS: the clock having two addorsed movements, the principal clock movement behind the time dial with rectangular plates joined by seven rear-pinned pillars, its back plate signed 'Castel Secretaire/Du Roi/Paris/Année 1763', skeletonised front plate carrying the equation of time and motion work, weight-driven and with rope wind, deadbeat pinwheel escapement, the pendulum crutch with fine beat adjustment, the pendulum itself suspended on a knife-edge supported by a brass bracket mounted on a painted iron support, the pendulum signed on the knife-edge cage 'BAFFERT/A PARIS' with painted iron rod and substantial (replaced) brass bob with knurled and faceted rating nut, star-pierced countwheel for mean time hour and quarter strike on three nested bells above; the time side movement directly driving the orrery above and connected to the replaced (late 18th/early 19th Century?) independently-powered weight-driven calendrical movement behind the calendar dial; this with rectangular plates raised on four scroll legs and joined by four back-pinned pillars, the calendar work positioned on the front plate, activated once a day via detent and countwheel tripped by a release pin; replaced brass weights
94 in. (240 cm.) high, 25½ in. (64.5 cm.) square
Designed and made for Jacques-Thomas Castel, Secrétaire du Roi, completed circa 1763
His widow, Madame Castel, who offered it for sale, Paris, 1773
Monsieur Frapet, sold upon his death, Paris, 1796
Acquired by Monsieur Haas
With his daughter Mademoiselle Haas (1821), given to her as part of her dowry
Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874), Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire
His daughter, Hannah de Rothschild (1851-1890), wife of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (married 1878)
By descent to the 6th Earl of Rosebery (1882-1974), sold on behalf of his executors, Sotheby's house sale, Mentmore, 18-27 May
1977, lot 85
Sold Christie's London, from a family collection, 22 June 1989, lot 124, when acquired by the present owner's family
Claude Herissant, Libraire-Imprimeur, Description de la Nouvelle Sphere Mouvante De M. Castel, Secrétaire du Roi, Repréfante le véritable fyftême du Monde, Paris, 1767.
Mentmore, privately printed catalogue, 1884, Vol. I, pp. 7 & 22-23 M. Planchon, L'Horloge, son Histoire, Paris, 1898, p. 128 and fig. 53.
H.C. King and J.R. Millburn, Geared to the Stars, the Evolution of Planetariums, Orreries, and Astronomical Clocks, Toronto, 1978, p. 283.
J-D Augarde, Les Ouvriers du Temps, Geneva, 1996, pp. 231-233.
Special notice

Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
Specified lots are being stored at Crozier Park Royal (details below) or will be removed from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London, SW1Y 6QT by 5.00pm on the day of the sale. Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent offsite. If the lot has been transferred to Crozier Park Royal, it will be available for collection from 12.00pm on the second business day following the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crozier Park Royal. All collections from Crozier Park Royal will be by pre-booked appointment only. Tel: +44 (0)20 7839 9060 Email: cscollectionsuk@christies.com. If the lot remains at Christie’s, 8 King Street, it will be available for collection on any working day (not weekends) from 9.00am to 5.00pm

Lot Essay

This spectacular orrery clock, a tour de force of horological and scientific complexity, was designed by and made in 1763 for Jacques-Thomas Castel, Conseiller-secrétaire of Louis XV and distinguished scientist. It was celebrated as a technological marvel not only in the 18th Century but also throughout the 19th and 20th century, when it was part of the fabled collection of Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild and his descents at Mentmore Towers.

The details of Castel's life remain quite obscure, but he was commissioned Ecuyer, Conseiller-secrétaire du Roi, Maison et Couronne de France, Audiencier en la Chancellerie de Paris on 28 August 1736 (Augarde, 1996, p. 231). He appears in the Almanachs Royaux from that year until 1774, two years after his death. Because of this position he was also officier de la chancellerie du Palais and accordingly enjoyed the same privileges as the grands officiers de la Grande Chancellerie. His first address is recorded as rue neuve Saint Roch and then from 1771 he is recorded at rue neuve des Bons Enfants. Augarde notes: 'Nothing in the interior decoration of his residence...sheds light on his personality: relatively comfortable rooms with very few books and, apart from two paintings representing views of Rome, no works of art worth mentioning'.
Castel was clearly a distinguished amateur scientist and inventor, a view confirmed by the great clockmaker Antide Janvier (1751-1835), who wrote that Castel spent considerable time and money constructing planetary machines and collecting curious objects (Étrennes chronométriques pour l'an 1811, ou précis de ce qui concerne les tems, ses divisions, ses mesures, leur usages, etc, Paris, 1810, see King and Millburn, 1978). There were well established precedents for this type of collection, such as the famous cabinet of curiosities assembled by Joseph Bonnier de la Mosson (1702-1744) at his tel in the rue Saint-Dominique (La Rue Saint-Dominique, Hôtels et Amateurs, Musée Rodin, 1984, pp. 150-163). Augarde further notes Castel completed circa 1740 another clock, with seven dials and an ivory movement (referenced also in Castel's pamphlet of 1767). The description of this clock bears a close resemblance to item No. 614 of the Bonnier de la Mosson sale of 1745. Neither clock appears to have survived.
Castel must have regarded the sphère mouvante as his greatest achievement, however. His promotional pamphlet states: 'All the calculations of this sphere which M. Castel has worked on for more than fifteen years, & the precision with which it has been executed, having been done at his house & by him for the most part, give him the satisfaction of seeing daily the extreme accuracy with which it represents all the movements of the heavens. It is true that he has neither neglected nor spared anything to bring it to its greatest perfection' (pp. 13-14).

The sphère mouvante or orrery is a mechanical device for portraying the relative motions of the sun, moon and Earth and sometimes, as in this instance, the planets. It is apparent that Castel engaged a practitioner to make his clock. Salernier's engraving of the clock is captioned 'Exécutée sur les Desseins et Calculs de M.r Castel'. A probable clue to the identity of the canicien concerned is in the signature 'Baffert/Paris' at the top of the pendulum. Martin Baffert was active in Paris during the third quarter of the 18th century, and died after 1779, an ouvrier libre, he used clock cases by Fremont and Jourdan. He was declared insolvent and went bankrupt on 25 October 1773, at which time he owed 730 livres to Mabille. Janvier, who also examined Castel's clock, analysed a planetary clock made by Jean-Mathieu Mabille and Martin Baffert for the Prince de Conti (sold Christie’s, London, 9 July 2015, lot 9, £602,500 inclusive).
An account of the examination of Castel's clock in 1766 by Le Monnier (Pensionnaire ordinaire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences specialising in astronomy since 1735) and Le Roy (adjoint de l'Académie Royale des Sciences en 1751 pour la Géométrie) is unreserved in its praise for the accuracy and refinement of the clock but also for its ingenious simplicity, pronouncing it simpler in design yet more accurate than previous examples (presumably including Passemant's clock presented to Louis XV in 1750, which remains at Versailles).

Castel died in 1772 and early in 1773 his widow advertised the clock for sale. In 1796 the clock appeared in a sale of the property of Monsieur Frapet, who had presumably acquired it from the Castel family and who was most likely a dealer. The next reference to Castel's clock appears in an exchange of letters between one Mademoiselle Haas and representatives of King Louis XVIII, to whom she was endeavouring to sell it. In her first letter of 23 July 1821 to His Excellency the Marquis de Lauriston, Ministre de la Maison du Roi Mlle Haas states that she had received the clock as her dowry and requests the Minister to consider acquiring it for the King. She is prepared to receive payment in instalments. By 17 November 1821 Mlle Haas directly supplicates the King to consider the purchase of the clock, which she describes as having been in the Cabinets of Louis XV and Louis XVI ('Après avoir été pendant longtemps l'ornement des cabinets de Louis XV et de Louis XVI...'). She further mentions that she has had the clock completely overhauled by Janvier and that she is prepared to receive any sum the King might offer.
Mlle Haas' strong indication that the clock was acquired for Versailles is not substantiated. Such a statement coming from someone who was not connected with Castel in any way would normally be treated with considerable circumspection -- were it not for the fact that all the reports of the Garde Meuble seem to confirm that it was indeed at Versailles before the Revolution. Unfortunately they do not say where it was, how it came to be there or when. The Revolution had only taken place thirty-two years before and it cannot have been difficult for the Garde Meuble to check. The links in the Garde Meuble with the ancien régime were particularly strong because the Intendant général du Garde meuble de la Couronne since 1814 had been Arnaud Thierry de Ville d'Avray, the son of Thierry de Ville d'Avray (1732-1792) who had occupied the position from 1784 until the Revolution. He had re-organised the Garde Meuble after taking over from Fontanieu in 1784 and the many aspects of its operation had been preserved by Napoleon. Moreover Janvier, who had repaired the clock for Mlle Haas according to her letter to the King and who was consulted by the Garde Meuble over this matter, had been horloger du Roi to Louis XVI (from 1784) before being re-instated to the position under the Restauration.
The claim that it had stood in the Cabinets of Louis XV and Louis XVI is almost certainly an exaggeration -- the sale in 1773 makes it extremely unlikely, as Louis XV died in 1774. The clock would certainly have appealed to Louis XVI, who was a well informed amateur in horological matters. It is possible therefore that the King acquired the clock after 1773. However, it does not appear in the various inventories of clocks at Versailles and other Royal chateaux taken in 1749-1782, 1784, 1787, January and March 1788, 1789 and 1793, nor on the list of clocks belonging to Louis XVI in the care of Robin in 1793 (P. Verlet, Les Bronze Dorés Français du XVIIIe siècle, 1986, pp. 459-465). One possibility is that the Monsieur Castel himself had the clock at Versailles during his lifetime if his position as secrétaire du Roi entitled him to an apartment or office there. Another is that it was seized during the Revolution and placed in store at Versailles, which was used as a warehouse for confiscated property until it was sold in one of the Revolutionary sales.
In 1796 the clock was sold from the estate of M. Frapet (see above) and apparently acquired by M. Haas. Janvier recalls seeing a 'machine' bearing Castel's name at the premises of M. Haering, opticien de S.M. Le Roi de Wurtemberg, au Palais-Royal (see King and Millburn, 1978, p. 283) but it is unclear whether this refers to the present clock.
After Mlle Haas' unsuccessful attempt to sell the clock it most probably came to England. The later dome supporting the figure of Father Time is signed 'Blake', most likely for Robert Blake of 8 Stephen Street, Tottenham Court Road, recorded as a cabinet maker and boulle manufacturer between 1826-1839 (Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, 1986, p. 79). The mounts of the pair of Boulle commodes after the Trianon model in the Frick Collection, New York, are stamped by Blake. This dome is an invention rather than a replacement as it does not appear in Castel's description of the clock or in Salernier's engraving. Indeed, the pamphlet of 1767 suggests that the figure of Time was also glazed; although it is possible that an original glazed cover may have been taller, to cover the figure, it should be noted that on the Saint-Aubin sketch of 1773 Time is shown above the panels.

It is not recorded when or how Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874) acquired the clock, but he was forming his collection much earlier than most members of his family. Sir Joseph Paxton began building Mentmore for him in 1853 and he died in 1874. His daughter Hannah (1851-1890) inherited and in a privately printed catalogue of the collections of Mentmore of 1884 it is shown in the middle of the Grand Hall. It remained in this position until the dispersal of the contents of the house by the executors of the 6th Earl of Rosebery in 1977.

Castel's clock -- described by him as a 'Pyramide' -- differs greatly from the Caffieri-cased ormolu clock presented by Passemant to Louis XV a dozen or so years earlier. That clock, raised on scroll legs, has the pendulum swinging unenclosed below. The superb and richly gilded mounts were designed with a complex iconography which both complements and serves to unify the case. The oval plaques to the sides are conceived as ancient triumphal bas-reliefs and represent the four seasons of the year. Interestingly, the Salernier engraving of 1767 shows all four sides of the plinth glazed, suggesting two may have been later veneered.

It is clear that Castel's clock, not unusually for a mechanical object which has passed through the hands of several owners and their technicians, has undergone alterations since originally conceived and described by him. The dome under Father Time is an addition and the panels to the foot of the plinth have been partially altered, as described above. The dials have also been replaced. As two of the ormolu hands on the time dial have English inscriptions it seems probable that the dials were replaced at the same time as the hands, probably in England. The time dial is certainly in keeping with the appearance of the dial in the engraving of the clock in Castel's pamphlet. However, the original dial was made of glass: 'The dial of this clock, which is about 11 inches in diameter, is a convex piece of glass, behind which the hours & the minutes have been painted on white background which imitates the finest enamel: the centre of this glass, which is not painted, allows one to see the whole wheelworks & mechanics, of the movement...' (1767, pp. 8-10). The rear planisphere dial has been simplified also. It is still centred by a moon and shows the months, the days of the month and the days of the week. However, it no longer indicates, as described by Castel 'The rising and setting of the Sun...[and] a universal dial, which marks the hours of mean time in the principal places of the earth' (p. 10), nor does it show a perpetual calendar. Interestingly, above this dial there is a small cartouche plaque engraved '1779' (in the Mentmore sale catalogue this was incorrectly given as the clock's date); it is possible therefore that some significant alteration took place at that time, although the replaced dial itself certainly post-dates 1779. The calendrical movement, although also not the mechanism described by Castel and therefore a replacement, certainly pre-dates its replaced dial; its design suggests a date of late 18th Century or early 19th Century. It may date to 1779 but it may also be a product of Janvier's workshop; it is known from Mlle Haas' correspondence that the great astronomical clockmaker had possession of Castel's clock prior to 1821. The replaced dials appear to date from later in the 19th Century. In Castel's original description he writes: 'All the wheelworks both of the clock & of the planisphere are enclosed in cages of polished copper, enclosed likewise by convex panes of glass' (p. 10). At some point in the clock's history, probably in the early 19th century in Janvier's workshop but possibly earlier, this copper framing (which would have been fragile and therefore vulnerable) was replaced by brass.

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