French. Second Quarter Of The Nineteenth Century


Width: 17" (43 cm)
Depth: 10 3/4" (27 cm)


Of rosewood, boxwood, gilt-bronze and colored silks. The central figure of a tightrope walker surrounded by four musicians who move their heads and simulate playing instruments in an outdoor space with large tree, fence and draped curtain. The automaton scene under a glass dome resting on a base of Brazilian rosewood inlaid with inlaid satinwood decoration comprising an arcade of horseshoe arches with railing, centered by a clock face, above alternating feather and anthemion decoration surmounted by crescent moons. One small tree replaced. Clock movement: Eight-day striking movement with old replaced escapement. Musical Movement: Plays four tunes and is of Swiss manufacture, in excellent working order.

Lever plaque engraved:
Ne dansez pas, danse a l’heure, dansez toujours

Duke de Béjar, Palacio de Orihuela.
Marqués de Argelita by descent.
Private collection, Valencia from 1967.

The present automaton clock contains as its main spectacle a remarkable mechanical group comprised of a Turkish acrobat and musicians, designed to imitate human movements, in this case on a miniature scale. It is all the more remarkable for the fact that the substantial base is beautifully inlaid with references to the Turkish world, and we know of no other examples of automata that incorporate this conceit.

France had a strong tradition for items made in the Turkish taste; Turquerie was very much in vogue during the ancien regime, the style informing both the fashion and art of the day. It underwent a further revival during the 1840s, the culmination of which can be viewed in a clock called Pendule ‘Turque à Musique’ designed by Léon Feuchère for Sèvres in 1843. The clock was completely adorned with Middle Eastern architectural motifs, arabesques, crescent moons, and Arabic writing, and was intended as a gift from King Louis-Philippe to the viceroy of Egypt.

The five figures of the present automaton each move independently of one another, and all have their own unique set of gestures. The mandolin player strums the instrument with his right hand while his head moves from side to side, and also nods up and down. The triangle player lifts his right arm up and down to strike the triangle, and his head nods up and down as well. The drummer lifts his right hand up and down to strike the drum and his head nods up and down, while the seated figure turns his head from side to side. Finally, the tightrope walker, as the central figure, features many movements. Firstly, he jumps up and down on the slackline; both of his legs bend at the hips and knees. His arms move up and down while holding his balancing pole, and he nods his head up and down.

The musical movement plays four tunes in turn, simultaneously with the actions of the figures. They can be set to play when the clock has struck, just after the hour, or activated at will. This action is controlled by a sliding lever: when in the left hand position, the automaton and music will start immediately and play continuously until run down; in the middle position the figures and music will play when activated by the clock movement; and in the right hand position the movements and music will stop instantly and remain locked in the off position until the lever is moved back to the middle or left. The automaton will perform twelve times when fully wound, while the musical movement will play fifteen times, until run down.

The French-made clock movement is an eight-day striking movement, which strikes the hours and half-hours on a gong mounted on the base, while the musical movement is certainly of Swiss manufacture due to its very high quality, although there are no markings.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.