An Important South German gilt-metal astronomical table clock from the Orpheus series
The reliefs after engravings by Virgil Solis, the movement probably by the unidentified maker MTA. Circa 1570
CASE: with finely chased gilt-bronze ring modelled in high relief with Orpheus portrayed seated playing a cello and enchanting the natural world, the case around him pierced to enhance the sound of the strike, with Eurydice to his right shown fleeing the Underworld, the remainder of the band depicted with numerous African and European animals, both wild and domesticated, the top and base mouldings each of ogee section and secured by rivets, engraved with acanthus foliage, resting on three bun feet; the detachable base plate engraved with a table of planetary indications
DIAL AND HANDS: the gilt-metal chapter ring with engraved twice XII hour Roman numerals, with punched star half hour markers and a form of Vernier scale marking the quarter hours with dots and each three and a half minutes with converging lines; the fixed central plate engraved with lines for Italian and Unequal hours, with punched Roman and Arabic numerals; rotating skeletonised central disc, the outer rim calibrated with a year calendar, the inner eccentric ring divided for 360 parts with the degrees and signs of the Zodiac, and pierced with a balanced pattern of arabesque tracery; with concentric solar and lunar pointers, the former with an inner scale calibrated for the age of the moon, the pointer now lacking, the latter with pierced aperture demonstrating the moon's phase with an aspectarium, the pointer engraved with a female figure holding a crescent moon and punched LVNA
MOVEMENT: constructed in iron and with circular full plates, with faceted square pillars secured with plain nuts to the front plate and with similar but decorated nuts to the back plate; the back plate partially pierced and with scalloped corners, overlaid with a brass plate pierced with a tracery pattern; the going train with fusee and barrel with riveted caps (now with brass cone and early long-link chain); short train with iron wheels, verge escapement mounted on a sub-frame with later brass balance, spring and brass cock; the hour striking train with iron fusee and gut with similarly constructed barrel, striking on a bell between the plates, the release detent activated through a slot in the front plate; formerly with simple alarm train pinned within the bell (now removed); with engraved and punched gilt-metal alarm disc mounted on the back plate, calibrated for twice XII hours and marked DIES/NOX, with single iron hand, the 12 hour countwheel also of gilt-brass, with a further engraved gilt-metal dial indicating the day of the week and its ruling deity; the movement secured within the case with dog latches
CONDITION: this clock is the only remaining Orpheus clock in private hands to have survived in remarkably original condition. It has suffered little in the way of damage through unsympathetic repair and exhibits only a few of the subsequent alterations normally found in clocks of this period. The going train has had the fusee cone changed from steel to brass, with a chain added, probably to cope with a stronger main spring. The balance wheel and cock are later, in keeping with the very usual practice of adding a balance spring to improve timekeeping. The simple alarm train has been removed, again a common occurrence, but the disc and hand survive. The day of the week dial is no longer running and lacks a hand. The sun/hour hand has lost its arm and this has been replaced with a strip of steel. Otherwise, condition of the movement is generally good and unrestored. the case is in fine condition, with some wear, as is to be expected to the dial and base plate. the frieze is exceptionally crisp. In general the clock compares very favourably with the other known examples listed and discussed below. Fremersdorf I and II are in fine condition, having both been restored. Munich is also good. Chicago lacks all original back plate fittings. Milwaukee now contains an 18th century movement.
COMPARISONS: This clock forms part of a small group known as 'The Orpheus clocks'. It was offered for sale at Christie's in 1986, at that time being a recent and unrecorded discovery. It is therefore not included in P G Coole and E. Neumann's The Orpheus Clocks, which was published in 1972. There are now eleven Orpheus clocks recorded, brief details of the other ten are given below. For purposes of reference and comparison the titles ascribed to each by Coole/Neumann are employed.
Fremersdorf I. Formerly in the Gutmann collection, Berlin, the Bachstitz collection in the Hague, and acquired by Herr Fremersdorf in 1962. Now in the collection of the Württembergisches landesmuseum, Stuttgart.
Fremersdorf II. J. Hunt collection, sold Sotheby's May 1962, and acquired by Herr Fremersdorf in 1968. Also now in the Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart.
Munich. Spitzer collection, 1892, subsequently in the Basserman-Jordon collection. Now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich.
Chicago: Said to have passed from a Russian collection into the collection of A.S. Drey and then to the Mensing collection, Amsterdam. Acquired by Max Adler before 1933 and now in the Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum, Chicago.
Milwaukee. Purchased by Richard B. Flagg from Dr Lewis Rosenberg of New Jersey in 1962 and now on display in the Flagg wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Contains an 18th century movement signed Johan Lehr Jaegerndorff.
Luton Hoo. Acquired between 1890-1912 by Sir Harold Wernher, Bt., Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire. Sold Christie's, London, Works of Art From the Wernher Collection, 5 July 2000, lot 56 for £168,750.
Georgi. A square clock, formerly in the Georgi collection. Present whereabouts unknown.
London. Square clock with alarm attachment. Morgan bequest to the British Museum, London in 1888. On display, Inv. No.88 12-1 102.
Vienna. An empty case with later dial. Presented to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, in 1949 by Clarice de Rothschild. Sold Christie's, London, The Collection of the Barons Nathaniel and Albert von Rothschild, 8 July 1999, lot 183, for £95,000.
A case. Complete with top and bottom mouldings was sold Sotheby's, Zurich, 6 May 1977, lot 111, having been attached to the bottom of an early 17th century table clock designed as a Turk pointing to a globe. Formerly in Barnard Castle.
It seems to be universally accepted that the 'Orpheus' plaques forming the cases of all the known clocks are taken from the same master cast or mould, although there are differences in the standard of finishing and in the choice of sections inserted to arrive at the required size of circle when appropriate. None of the clocks is signed in full, but Chicago and Luton Hoo are both punched with the conjoined initials MTA. In view of their many similarities with the present clock it seems very probable that all three were made by the same man, with Munich also emanating from the same workshop. Coole/Neumann op. cit. discuss a small tower clock in the Altes Schloss, Stuttgart, which bears the same punched mark. Although the case is of entirely different form, there are marked similarities in style. Subsequent to the publication of the book another small tower clock of almost identical design to the Stuttgart clock surfaced (Bonhams, 12 March 1982, lot 81), again punched MTA. These tower clocks both use the same form of lantern pillars as the Orpheus clocks discussed above and the Bonhams example appears to have a countwheel stamped with the same punches. It would therefore be reasonable to conclude that the present clock is the work of the as yet unidentified maker MTA, whose production can be shown to include at least five identified pieces.
The frieze celebrates two legends from the life of Orpheus, as related in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Orpheus, the son of a Muse, was so marvellous a player on the lyre that he could charm wild beasts and even make rocks and trees move with his music. He married Eurydice, a wood nymph, who was bitten by a snake and died. The grieving Orpheus descended into the Underworld to recover her and with the beauty of his music so moved the gods Pluto and Persephone that they consented to release Eurydice, on condition that he should not look back at his wife as they departed. However, as they neared the end of their journey, Orpheus forgot the proviso and looked back at his wife, who disappeared forever. In the relief orpheus is seen playing a 'modern' violincello and charming the animals, while another scene shows Eurydice emrging from Hades.
Both scenes are directly derived from engravings published by the Nuremberg artist Virgil Solis (d.1562). Other motifs, notably an elephant and a monkey, were probably copied from a games board made in the workshop of Hans Krels the Elder circa 1537.
Christie's Geneva, Fine Watches and Clocks, 12 November 1986, lot 335.
The Glory of the Goldsmith, exhibition catalogue, Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd., 1989, item 238, p.271.
P.G. Coole & E. Neumann, The Orpheus Clocks, London, 1972; Klaus Maurice Die deutsche Raderuhr, Munich, 1976, Vol.II, fig.524, p.90, etc.; G. Brusa, L'arte dell'orologeria in Europa, Milan, 1978, figs.117-119, p.410; Klaus Maurice & Otto Mayr, The Clockwork Universe, Washington, 1980, item 40, p.204.
9in. (23cm.) diameter, 3½in. (9cm.) high