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Claude Galle (1759-1846)

Mantel clock 1800-09

Gilt-bronze (figures and mounts), marble (base) | 68.0 x 59.7 x 20.3 cm (whole object) | RCIN 2761

Throne Room, Buckingham Palace

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  • This mantel clock is a wonderful and exquisite example of Parisian gilt-bronze or 'ormolu' work of the early 19th century Empire period.

    The case with its wonderful figures and mounts is the work of the French modeller and gilder Claude Galle. The scene depicts the moment when the three Horatti brothers stand, with their arms raised, to receive their swords from Tatius, their aged father, as they swear their oath of faith to Rome over an altar, on which are placed a pair of laurel wreaths. They are about to depart to fight the three Curatii brothers in order to settle an argument over the rule of the region of Alba, in central Italy.

    To complete the narrative, the outcome of the battle is set at the front of the marble base: to the centre, Tatius reunites with his only surviving but victorious son, flanked to the left by the two dying Horatii brothers and to the right by their sister turning in anguish and despair ? she has noticed that one of her brothers carries on his shoulder the cloak belonging to one of the Curatii to whom she was betrothed and is now presumably dead.

    The iconography was copied by Galle from a painting by the French artist Louis David (now
    in the
    Louvre Museum, Paris) which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1785 and reproduced in prints by the engraver A.A. Morel. As well as being beautifully modelled, Galle has skilfully transformed a two-dimensional painting into a three-dimensional composition, like a stage set, charged with action and emotion. Added elements to the original painting by Louis David, like the sacrificial altar and Tatius's beautifully cast chair are used to balance the composition and provide depth as well as to add to the tragedy of the story.

    The clock is set on a green or 'verde antico' marble base. To the sides of the base, which stands on six lion's paw feet, are gilt-bronze mounts of a male head above an acorn and oak garland. At the front are four gilt-bronze lion-head spandrels and the white-enamelled dial, encased by a bombee glass door, has a chapter ring of gold-painted Roman numerals I-XII for the hours inside a circle marked in gold-painted Arabic numerals 1-31 for the days of the month.

    It was not unusual for these highly decorative clocks to have malfunctioning and unreliable movements. Their decorative aspect was thought to be more important than their ability to tell accurate time. However George IV, like his father, George III, had a keen interest in horology and since accurate time-keeping was essential for the efficient running of the court he ordered Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy to create a new movement for the clock in 1818. The eight day rack striking mechanism has a fusee movement and ?-dead beat escapement. Vulliamy who came from a family of clockmakers and like his father Benjamin Vulliamy and great-grandfather, Benajmin Gray, he was appointed the King's clockmaker in warrant.
    (Pictoral Inventory RCIN 934756,

    Vulliamy number 668.)

    This object reflects the fashion for great heroic narratives that became popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The story of the Horatii was also an attractive one because it was charged with tragedy and drama: close ties existed between the two families, the Horatii and the Curatii. One of the Horatii brothers was married to a Curatii and one of the Horatii sisters was betrothed to one of the three Curatii brothers, all of whom were killed in battle. For royalty this story also represented their patriotic ideals and their beliefs in placing country over family. Two other identical clocks (also on antico green bases) in royal collections are known to exist. One is in the Residenz in Munich, the other is in the Swedish Royal Collection.

    Claude Galle was one of the leading bronzeurs of his day and he created numerous gilt bronzes for the Royal and subsequently Imperial household. Born at Villepreux near Versailles, he was apprenticed to the fondeur, Pierre Foy at rue du Four. In 1784 he married Foy's daughter and after the Foy's death, took over the workshop and built it into one the finest of its kind, eventually employing about 400 craftsmen. In 1786 he became a maitre-fondeur and in the same year received the first of many commissions from the Garde-Meuble to furnish the royal palaces. Galle moved the business to Quai de la Monnaie (renamed Quai de l'Unit?) and from 1805 traded from 60 Rue Vivienne.

    Purchased by George IV from Louis Recordon in January 1809; it is recorded on a chimneypiece in the Large Crimson Drawing Room, Carlton House in 1818.

    Included in the Pictorial Inventory of 1827-33 ? RCIN 934742. The inventory was originally created as a record of the clocks, vases, candelabra and other miscellaneous items from Carlton House, as well as selected items from the stores at Buckingham House, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace for consideration in the refurbishment of Windsor Castle.

  • Medium and techniques

    Gilt-bronze (figures and mounts), marble (base)


    68.0 x 59.7 x 20.3 cm (whole object)

    2' 2 3/4" x 1' 11 1/2" x 0' 8" (whole object)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Oath of the Horatii mantel clock