This magnificent clock was reputedly a gift of the citizens of Lyon to Napoleon in honour of his famous Egyptian campaign of 1798-1799.
Egypt is celebrated through the superb bronze surmounting the clock case, which depicts a River God emblematic of the Nile with a horn of plenty, reclining on a sphinx and surrounded by putti playing with crocodiles. This is based on the famous ancient Roman marble of the Nile, first recorded in 1523 and installed in 1770 in the Museo Pio-Clementino. It was much admired by Napoleon, and like the companion figure of the Tiber, it was seized by France and installed in Paris to great acclaim in 1803. The exotic imagery of Egypt is further reflected in the tortoise-form feet to the clock case, whose heads are articulated, and in the elegant tapering Egyptian female herms of the base.
The enamel portrait of Napoleon centring the pedestal depicts him in the gold-embroidered scarlet uniform of the First Consul, to which he was appointed in 1800, and is loosely based on the famous portraits of him at this time by Appiani and Ingres. Napoleon is crowned by winged angels, while below is the eagle, a symbol indelibly linked with him in his period as Emperor. The depiction of Apollo in the beautifully cast relief plaque above also bears a resemblance to Napoleon, a reminder of the iconography of another autocratic ruler of France, Louis XIV, the Sun King.
The exceptional quality of the gilt-bronzes and cabinet-work of the pedestal leads one to conclude that it was the work of Jacob Frères, the sons of the famous menuisier Georges Jacob, who took over their father's workshop in 1796 and remained Napoleon's favorite cabinet-makers throughout the Consulat and Empire periods. Its elegant à l'antique style reflects the influence of the court architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, whose Receuil de Décorations Intérieures (first issued in 1801) was enormously influential and which contains designs for a number of pieces known to have been executed by Jacob Frères. A cabinet illustrated on plate 40, for instance (executed for 'Monsieur du R' in Paris), features closely related Egyptian herm uprights.