Imposing Empire Clock “Triumph Of Amphitrite” Signed Louis Berthoud (1754-1813)

Empire clock “Triumph of Amphitrite”

This monumental 47.5 cm high and extremely rare Empire clock “Triumph of Amphitrite” has a dial with the signature ‘Louis Berthoud – Horloger de la Marine’. It not only shows Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon, but it also has several other mythological figures related to the sea. They are all appropriate themes for this very famous clock maker who was  horologist to the navy.

The front of this mythological Empire clock “Triumph of Amphitrite” by Louis Berthoud has a giant scallop shell (18.5 cm high) with Amphitrite, bride of Poseidon. In front of Amphitrite’s feet we see a part of the sea with a lot of waves. Seahorses accompany her on her left and right at her feet.

On the top part of this Empire pendulum clock we see the clockwork with a white and decorated enameled dial and signature ‘Louis Berthoud – Horloger de la Marine’. The dial has Roman numerals painted in gold and more intricate patterns in gold. The casing of the clockwork carries a big cup. On both sides of the dial we see two very big sculptures (24 cm high). They are Tritons blowing their horns. And below them, on the sides of the clock, we see beautifully carved and detailed lion mask fountains. Further, on the front of the case, there are decorations of reed plants and imperial bees.

This is a truly impressive and fascinating Empire clock, both in size and richness and detail of decoration. The clock has been professionally cleaned and is in very good condition, minuscule nearly invisible restoration to one foot of the base. It is in a very good working condition and it is complete with pendulum, bell and key.

Dimensions: 47.5 cm high, 47.5 cm wide, 16 cm deep.
Weight: 17.5 kg.

Amphitrite and Poseidon

The theme of this Empire clock “Triumph of Amphitrite” reminds us of the  famous painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665): see photos. This painting has likely been painted for or commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister for Louis XIII. Poussin took his inspiration from Raphael’s fresco in the Villa Farnese. A popular interpretation is that the work represents the mythology surrounding Poseidon and his wife Amphitrite. Another interpretation of the painting is the birth of terrestrial Venus. Under the more common interpretation, the scene depicts the return of Amphitrite to Poseidon. When Amphitrite escaped from Poseidon’s courting, he sent dolphins to persuade her to return and become his bride. In the painting, the goddess Amphitrite rides on a dolphin’s back, an arch of drapery billows over her head, a common feature of sea-goddesses from antiquity.

Mythology of Seahorses and Tritons

The seahorses, like we see on this Empire clock, were mythological creatures which the gods used to cross the seas. For instance Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, traveled in a chariot drawn by fierce seahorses with heads of a horse and tails of a fish. According to the Greeks, precisely four seahorses, surrounded by an escort of Tritons and Nereids, pulled Poseidon’s chariot.

Triton is a Greek god of the sea, the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. Triton lived with his parents, in a golden palace on the bottom of the sea. Later depictions show him as having a conch shell that he would blow like a trumpet. Also we usually see Triton represented as a merman, with the upper body of a human and the tailed lower body of a fish. At some time during the Greek and Roman era, Tritons became a generic term for mermen in art and literature.

Louis Berthoud (1754-1813)

Pierre-Louis Berthoud, known as Louis was a very important clock maker and an ingenious scientist. He is listed in the Tardy dictionary of watchmakers (see photos). His father, Pierre was a clock maker but Louis trained under his highly esteemed uncle, Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807). Louis took over the management of his uncle Ferdinand’s workshop in Paris in 1784. Like his uncle, Louis was particularly interested in precision horology. He specialized in making regulators, over 150 chronometers as well as clocks and watches.

Louis Berthoud was appointed as clock maker to the Observatoire and to the Bureau de Longitude. He won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition, l’an X (1800/1). And in 1802 he received the position of Horologist to the Navy. And after that, in 1805, Horologist to the Observatory and the Board of Longitude in Paris. Louis Berthoud was a member of the French Academy of Science and he is the author of a book of “conversations” on naval timekeeping: Entretiens sur l’Horlogerie à l’Usage de la Marine (1812). Also he left several volumes of handwritten notes that he did not have time to edit. His work in watchmaking consists of marine or pocket chronometers, astronomical clocks, clocks with seconds, equation and ringing and complicated watches and clocks for civilian use.

In November 1784, Louis Berthoud married Thérèse Bézout, niece and adopted daughter of the mathematician Étienne Bézout. He had two sons who, like their father, took on an eminent position in the art of watchmaking. Since 1798, he had had accommodation provided by the Minister of Marine at the Hôtel d’Egmont (depot for naval plans and charts) which he kept until his death. However, he moved his workshop to Argenteuil to be in a quieter environment. Admiral Decrès, Minister of the Navy, owned the Château du Marais in Argenteuil, where he resided as often as his duties permitted, and he frequently invited Louis Berthoud to dine at the Château du Marais.

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