Exhibition: September 9th - November 5th 2016
A Mechanical Bestiary
Automaton Clocks of the Renaissance
From September 9th to November 5th 2016, Galerie J. Kugel will present the first exhibition ever to be devoted solely to automaton clocks of the Renaissance. Over thirty automata will be on display, constituting the largest collection ever assembled. The visitor will discover a menagerie of exotic animals: lions, camels, elephants, bears, monkeys… Every hour, or on demand, the clockwork is set into motion: the animals open their ferocious jaws, stick out their tongues, raise their paws, or swing their tails from side to side, while their eyes move with the rhythm of the clock. Though animals dominate the automaton kingdom, a few humans inhabit it as well, and one may encounter a Turkish horseman swinging his sword, and lion and bear tamers pulling on leashes.
From the time of Homer to our digital era, mankind has mankind has pursued the dream of giving life to an artificial being. At the end of the Middle Ages, the development of horology allowed the creation of the first automata, at the crossroads between science and art. During the Renaissance, this dream took the form of luxurious clocks representing animals and humans, destined for the pleasure of princes. These automaton clocks date from 1580 to 1630 and were for the most part created in Augsburg, the main German artistic centre of the time.
These wonderful objects combine the arts of sculpture and horology. Rivalling in fantasy and ingenuity, they fascinated the European courts. Today, they can be found in museums holding great princely collections in Vienna, Dresden, Munich… Automaton clocks were also used as diplomatic presents. From the middle of the 16th century onward, automaton clocks were regularly sent to the Sultan in Istanbul, as part of the yearly tribute paid by the Empire in order to preserve peace. In the 17th century, Jesuit priests presented automaton clocks - along with other works of art and scientific curiosities - to the Chinese Emperor, hoping these gifts would help spread Christian ideas throughout Asia.
Nearly 400 years after their creation, the animals of this mechanical bestiary continue to fill us with awe and wonder.
Free exhibition, Monday to Saturday: from 10.30 am to 7 pm
A Gilt-Bronze Automaton Lion Clock
Augsburg, circa 1620
H. 29,5 cm
The lion rests its foot on a shield engraved with the arms of the del Bufalo family of Rome. It is res¬ting upon a base in marquetry of kingwood, palm tree and pewter inlay. The lion’s eyes move with the rhythm of the mechanism. At the hour, or on demand, it opens its jaw when the clock strikes. This lion belonged to Adrian Ilbert (1888-1956), who put together one of the greatest clock collections in England, most of which is today in the collections of the British Museum. The coat of arms illustrates the attraction of automaton clocks throughout Europe
A Gilt-Bronze Automaton Elephant Clock,
Augsburg, circa 1580-90
Attributed to Erasmus Pirenbrunner
The elephant’s eyes move with the rhythm of the mechanism. At the hour, or on demand, its trunk moves from left to right while its rider moves his trident and, on the tower, Turkish soldiers move in a round. A nearly identical clock, clearly from the same workshop, is in the Esterhazy collection at the castle of Forstenstein. This clock is mentioned in the 1685 and 1696 Esterhazy inventories, and it bears the hallmarks of Augsburg as well as of the master ‘AB’ in a shield, for Erasmus said Asmus Pirenbrunner, master in 1571. A similar elephant clock surmounted by a king under a howdah is first mentioned in the 1597 inventory of the Saxon Kunstkammer and was destroyed in 1945.
GALERIE J.KUGEL 25 Quai Anatole France
GETTING HERE Métro: musée d’Orsay, Assemblée Nationale (RER C and line 12)
PRESS CONTACTS Heymann, Renoult Associées / Agnès Renoult, Eléonore Grau & Bénédicte Wagner
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