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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.
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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Napoleon's Penis

If you saw our appearance on The Colbert Report this week, you know that one of the quirkier objects associated with the Rosenbach is Napoleon's penis. Dr. Rosenbach bought the body part in 1924 as part of the larger Vignali collection of Napoleonic "relics," which included silverware, clothing, vestments, and other objects. Here is the description from a 1924 Rosenbach Company catalog--it is described as "a mummified tendon taken from Napoleon's body during the postmortem."

Rosenbach Company. A Description of the Vignali Collection of Relics of Napoleon. 1924. Ro2 924a copy 1
Abbé Ange Paul Vignali was a Corsican priest who had served as Napoleon's chaplain on St. Helena. After  Napoleon's death, his companions divided up some of the possessions not included in his will and a share went to Vignali. Supposedly, Vignali also took some souvenirs from the autopsy, a story which is supported (as the Rosenbach catalog indicates) by the memoir of Napoleon's valet, Louis Etienne St. Denis.

After Vignali's death, his Napoleonic relics went to his sister and then ultimately her son, Charles-Marie Gianettini. He sold them to the dealer Maggs Brothers, who in turn sold them to Dr. Rosenbach.

According to his biographers, Dr. Rosenbach took a "Rabelaisian talking about the notorious Vignali relics of Napoleon." In 1927 the pieces were exhibited at the Museum of French Art in New York, prompting a famous description from a journalist: "Maudlin sentimentalisers sniffled; shallow women giggled, pointed. In a glass case they saw something looking like a maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace or shrivelled eel."

But however much Doctor R. enjoyed the collection, the Rosenbachs were businessmen and in 1947 they sold the Vignali items to their good customer Donald Hyde. So the famous penis never made it into the collection of the Rosenbach Museum & Library as an institution. More's the pity.

After several more transactions (which included Dr. Rosenbach's successor John Fleming and which you can read about on the History of Information and Media website) the penis eventually ended up in the hands of the urologist Dr. John Lattimer and it is now owned by his daughter. Tony Perrottet, the author of Napoleon's Privates, has apparently been to her house in New Jersey and seen the famous item. He documents the visit in a short video, which is a hilarious tease--we get to see the box and all the trappings, but in keeping with her father's wishes not to display the relic, the current owner won't allow the organ itself to be shown on camera. But it is still fun to watch.

So that's the story of the famous "mummified tendon."

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Heat Wave

The weather this week is enough to make one wish it was July 4, 1776 rather than July 4, 2012--you can see Thomas Jefferson's notes on the weather at Monticello's website and his highest temperature recording on July 4th was 76 degrees and on the 5th it was only 74 degrees. Not too bad--and definitely a different picture than you get from one of my favorite guilty pleasures--the musical 1776, in which the characters sing that "it's hot as hell in Philadelphia."

Well, it's certainly hot today and here are a few pictures from the collection that seemed apropos.

George Cruiskhank, School of natation at the Stadium, Chelsea. 1834. Rosenbach Museum & Library.
This illustration of a "School of Natation" (or in other words, a swimming school) is from a book about Particulars and recommendations of the Stadium, or, British National Arena for manly and defensive exercises, equestrian, chivalric, and aquatic games, and skilful and amusing pastimes; at the residence of the late Lord Cremorne. You can see two tiny men in the water at the far left; they are attached to ropes that are held by the standing figure.

George Cruikshank, Humphrey's zeal for his master. 1831. Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.1880.2874
 But remember, don't go swimming without a lifeguard.

George Cruikshank, View of the Yard to Mr. Seymour's House. 1827. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.1880.2052
 Water guns are perennially popular.

George Cruikshank, August-Regatta.1837. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 1954.1880.3411

 As is a pleasant day of boating

George Cruikshank, Parisian Luxury. 1824. Rosenbach Museum & Library 1954.1880.1831
But this is what I'd really like to be doing during the heat wave.

Keep cool!

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog