“Reclining Bacchante”, or "Erigone seduced by Bacchus", exceptional Empire-period Mantle Clock, Paris, circa 1810. Finely chased and gilded bronze, Vert-de-mer marble base with circular feet, movement with round plates and 4 pillars, anchor recoil escapement, and silk-suspended pendulum. Countwheel strike for the hours and half hours on a silvered bell. Autonomy 2 weeks.
Lying on a daybed, a female bacchanal figure with a simple drape accentuating her hips holds aloft a cluster of grapes, bringing them voluptuously up to her lips. Arranged around her feet are a tambourine, thyrsus and two ewers – symbols of the Dionysian festivals. Rich ornamental bronze imagery – featuring two opposing lionesses on the façade, grape-filled baskets, a young goat on its hind legs, and musical trophies – occupies a significant part of the frieze décor. The dial signed à Paris is set into the frame of the daybed, the feet of which are in the form of hooves adorned with satyr masks.
This semi-reclining nymph figure, surrounded by bacchic attributes, makes reference to the tragic love story of Bacchus and Erigone. In the Metamorphosis, Ovid tells the tale of a peasant named Ikarios who lived with his daughter Erigone (“born with the dawn”). Ikarios, unaware of his guest’s identity, plays host to Bacchus, who, in exchange, presents him with a grape vine and teaches him how to transform the fruit into wine.
Wanting to share this gift with the shepherds of Attica, Ikarios offers them a flask filled with wine, and not knowing its effects they proceed to drink without measure. Furious, and convinced that they have been poisoned, the shepherds club Ikarios to death, abandoning his corpse beneath a tree.
Concerned about her father who had been missing for so many days and months, Erigone goes in search of him only to find his dead body. Inconsolable, the young girl hangs herself from the tree which marks her father’s burial place.
Erigone is represented here under Love’s spell, in that one delightful moment when she succumbs to Bacchus, who, to seduce her transforms himself into a bunch of grapes. Characteristic of First Empire taste for moral themes of heroism and courage, this tragic subject is expressed here in all its beauty.
In its time the ‘reclining bacchante’ theme was considered a decorative-art icon, serving as a model to various master clockmakers who appropriated it to create additional depictions. Among other known versions are three models closely related to ours, the dials respectively signed ‘Le Roy’, ‘Gérard à Paris’, and ‘Blanc fils palais Royal’. By virtue of its quality of the bronze work, our clock figures among the rarest of comparable examples.
Provenance: Private collection, Mulhouse
H. 20.4 in (52cm); W.19.3 in (49cm); D.7 in (18cm)
Claude Galle (1759-1815),
Galle, Fabricant de bronzes et dorures, Rue Colbert no. 1, et Rue Vivienne no. 9 (as stated on his letterhead), became a master in 1786; official supplier to the Emperor furnishing the Royal Palaces of Fontainebleau, Les Tuileries, Compiègne and Rambouillet, he also received commissions for palaces outside France including the Quirinale in Rome and the Stupinigi in Turin. Established at no. 9 Rue Vivienne from 1806 to 1827, Galle grew to become one of the most celebrated bronze makers under Napoleon I. Both maker and retailer, his workshop, which employed almost 400 workers in 1811, was one of the largest in Paris. At the 1806 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, Claude Galle was awarded a bronze medal for his mantle clock Friendship concealing Time (L’amitié couvrant les heures), an example of which is now at the Musée du Château de Malmaison. Galle collaborated with Antoine-André Ravrio (1759-1814) and Jean Hauré (master in 1782) on several occasions – his connection with Hauré gave Galle the opportunity to create bronzes for some of Guillaume Benneman’s (1750-1811) cabinetry work intended for the Crown, like the commode with the Queen’s monogram, now housed at the Château de Compiègne.
In 1823 Galle received a gold medal for his final participation at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie: “Mr. Galle, from Paris, was judged worthy of the gold medal in 1823 for his presentation of a pair of matching figures, a Gladiator and an Achilles, flawlessly executed in bronze; a very beautiful jaspe fleuri (speckled jasp agate) clock, and a vase decorated with gilt bronze work, the mounting of which is affixed by clips which don’t pierce the vase.”
Certain works by Galle can be found today in numerous museum collections like those of the Musée National du Château de Malmaison and Musée Marmottan in Paris, the Munich Residenz, and the Victoria & Albert and the Wallace Collection in London. Claude Galle’s only son, Gérard-Jean Galle (1788 - 1846), took over the business.
Michael Shapiro, ‘Monsieur Galle, Bronzier et Doreur’, The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, Vol. 6/7 (1978/1979), pp. 57-74; Louna Zek, ‘Bronzes d’ameublement et meubles français achetés par Paul Ier pour le château Saint-Michel de Saint-Pétersbourg en 1798-99’, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1994; Jean-Dominique Augarde, ‘Une nouvelle vision du bronze et des bronziers sous le Directoire et l'Empire’, L'Estampille-L’Objet d'art, January 2005, no. 398, p. 62-85.