Pierre Merra l'an, matre horloger in 1772
This extraordinary cartel of monumental proportions and with the rare feature of candlearms is indebted to the got Grec designs of Jean-Charles Delafosse and Jean-Louis Prieur, disseminated through several editions of engraved plates from the late 1760s. While designs by Prieur were in many cases proposals submitted for a specific intent within a defined commission, Delafosse's ornamental designs for trophies, cartouches, clocks, firedogs etc. first published as part of Nouvelle Iconologie historique in 1768 and reedited in expanded versions in the 1770s were composed to inspire artisans working in a wide range of media, who could either carry out the published design or rather take elements from it.
Although this cartel relates to several drawings by Prieur executed for ornamental bronzes delivered by Parisian artisans between 1767 and the early 1770s to Stanislas-August Poniatowski, King of Poland, for the Royal Palace at Warsaw, no design has yet come to light supporting this connection. There is nonetheless a clear stylistic affinity between Prieur's designs for the royal Polish commission and the present cartel, apparent in the incorporation of lion-masks issuing pendant rings and of the urn mounted with floral swags and putti. Furthermore, the heavy berried laurel garland repeated on the urn motif is also found on Philippe Caffiri's set of wall-lights supplied as part of this commission to the King of Poland around 1768.
The military trophies, on the other hand, point to an attribution to Delafosse. Although designs for cartels tend to be scarce in Delafosse's oeuvre - a drawing with putti, musical and military trophies is in the Bibliothque de l' Ecole nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and published in L'oeuvre de Delafosse. Cahiers de bronzes, vases orfvrerie, etc., Paris, n.d., c. 52 - fanciful compositions for this type of iconography are recurrent in his work.
Unfortunately, just as the authorship of the present piece cannot be traced with certainty to either draughtsman, the maker responsible for its execution also remains unknown. The bronzier Robert Osmond who executed a number of high quality clock cases in this style (such as one delivered for Versailles on May 12, 1770) is a possible attribution (for a related model by Osmond, see Svend Eriksen, Early Neo-classicism in France, London, 1974, no. 196).
Independently from the mysterious circumstances surrounding the production of this impressive cartel, its striking scale and profuse use of ornaments in the antique style indicate that it must have furnished the interior of a patron with an uncompromising taste for the most modernistic stylistic developments prevalent in France at the time.