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Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's About Time


This week we turn the blog over to one of our summer collections interns: Julie Carlsen.
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As a new collections intern here at the Rosenbach, I have the pleasure of getting to explore the incredible collections. Today, I want to take a moment of your time to look at one of my favorite pieces- a decorative orbital clock created by Jean Baptiste Baillon. A Louis XVI ormolu mounted, marble, vase shaped clock, this object at first appears to be a statue or other ornate structure because of its size and stature. However, part of why I love this piece that its strong physique is complimented by delicate details.This clock stands over six feet in height and is made out of alabaster marble. The urn on top of the stand houses the clock. The snakes on either side, which serve as the handles, also have tongues that indicate the minute and hour, which are displayed on rotational cuffs that spin around the top of the urn.

Created in the mid-18th century, this clock is indicative of the art and historical trends at the time. The marble columns are true to the neoclassicist preferences at the time. Similarly, the wealthy in France at this time went to extreme lengths to show their wealth, as the embellishment on this clock demonstrates.

Jean Baptiste Baillon. Orbital clock. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.2017

Almost as impressive as our clock is the history of its maker. Jean Baptiste Baillon III was one of the most prestigious horologists in the 18th century and is still famous today for his intricate clocks and watches.

He was born in France in the early 18th century into a family of horologists (Baillon’s father, grandfather, and son all made luxury French clocks).  In 1727, he was received as a maître horloger in Paris, and continued to practice his art until he died around 1770.  In addition to his horology, Baillon was known for his business skills, and his large private factory in Saint-German-en-Laye was famous in its time for its size and efficiency.

Today, his work is still revered and continues to be displayed in museums around the world, including the Musée du Louvre, the Château de Versailles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Rosenbach Museum and Library! His watches are the most popular items, although some institutions also own Baillon clocks. Our clock is especially unique because it stands alone. Many of the other clocks available to the public via museum collections are smaller and meant to hang on the wall or stand on a table or mantel.

In addition to serving wealthy Parisians, Baillon was also the clockmaker of choice for the French and Spanish royal families. In fact, Marie Antoinette loved Baillon’s work so much that she appointed him to the position of Premier Valet de Chambre-Horologer Ordinaire de la Dauphine, or her own personal horologist.  At first I wrote this fact off as symptomatic of Marie Antoinette’s love of finery, but after taking a closer look at some of his work, I understand why she purchased Baillon’s clocks. Baillon’s clocks were not just supremely functional- they were works of art. Accordingly, each part of the clock is intricate and ornate- even the inside:

Jean Baptiste Baillon. Orbital clock mechanism. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.2017
Baillon was not just trying to put a pretty face on a functional device- he truly made clocks like art. When I first came across the term “horologist,” I wondered if clockmakers really need such a fancy title, but, Jean-Baptiste Baillon is proof that they do. 

Julie Carlsen is a  summer collections intern at the Rosenbach and is will be receiving her Masters in Library and Information Science from Rutgers University in August.

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