Chariot Clock: Neoclassicism in the Hands of an Expert

On Thursday, May 19, at 7:30 p.m., BPMM presents “Time Will Tell: Clocks at Bartow-Pell.” Discover the world of gears, drives, wheels, and escapements with John Metcalfe, owner and founder of Antiquarian Horologist, who has restored ticking and chiming to clocks in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, and National Watch and Clock Museum. Learn about the nineteenth-century clocks at BPMM and their place in the history of clock making, as well as the technical aspects of antique clock restoration and repair. Reception after the presentation. Admission proceeds and donations go toward the restoration of clocks in the collection. Cost $10 adults; $8 seniors, students, and members. Registration requested.718-885-1461 or info@bpmm.org

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Chariot Clock (after restoration), French, 1825. Gilt bronze with impressed initials “L G.” Dated 1825 on the spring. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mrs. Elliot Tuckerman, 1946.02

 

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Clock design, ca. 1802. Pierre de La Mésangère (French, 1761–1831), Collection de Meubles et Objets de Goût

A superb French chariot clock made in 1825 that has been at Bartow-Pell since it became a museum in the 1940s was recently cleaned and restored by antiquarian horologist John Metcalfe and is now back in its place on the marble mantel in the south parlor. French clocks like this one were desirable decorative accessories in stylish, wealthy American houses during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when neoclassicism was at its peak.

 

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Charioteer (before cleaning). Photograph by Francis Smith

This fine example features Hippolytus (or Artemis) as a charioteer. The figure wears a lion pelt over one shoulder and carries a quiver of arrows while holding the reins of two rearing stallions. A bas-relief of Phaedra and Hippolytus appears on the base. The composition of this mythological scene derives from an 1802 painting in the Louvre, Phèdre et Hippolyte, by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774–1833), in which Hippolytus rejects the illicit love of his stepmother, Phaedra, the wife of his father, Theseus. The story is told in a fifth-century BCE tragedy by Euripides, which begins when Hippolytus has offended vengeful and jealous Aphrodite, the goddess of love, because he is a follower of the goddess of the hunt and chastity, Artemis. (On our clock, as in the painting, Hippolytus stands by his hunting dogs and holds a bow and arrows, thus demonstrating his affinity for Artemis.) It is not surprising that bad things follow, and the play ends with the death of Hippolytus in his chariot.

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Bas-relief on clock base depicting Hippolytus and Phaedra (before cleaning)

 

Phaedra and Hippolytus engraving

Engraving from Painting: Spanish and French by Gerard W. Smith (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1884), after Phèdre et Hippolyte, an 1802 oil painting by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (French, 1774–1833)

The clock’s connections to Greek mythology, art, and culture allowed the original owners of this beautiful and costly imported object to demonstrate their education and knowledge to a society that was captivated by the ancient classical world.

Now is the perfect opportunity to see—and hear—our clock, after its recent restoration by expert horologist John Metcalfe, as it once again chimes and tells us the hour, taking us on a trip back in time.

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John Metcalfe is a horologist, a master of antique clock restoration, and owner of Antiquarian Horologist in lower Manhattan.

To learn more about John Metcalfe’s story, click here.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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