Important Louis XVI period mantel clock “Altar of Venus” signed Jean-Gabriel Imbert

Louis XVI period mantel clock “Altar of Venus” signed Jean-Gabriel Imbert (1735-1795)

This very rare and lavishly embellished Louis XVI period ormolu mantel clock, whose model is attributed to the bronzier Etienne Martincourt , carries the signature of clockmaker Jean-Gabriel Imbert, known as Imbert l’Aîné (1735-95). Another clock of this same model is kept in the collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (see photos). Imbert ranked among the top clock makers in Paris in his time and examples from his work can be seen in important collections such as Musée de Carnavalet in Paris, Patrimonio Nacional in Spain, Residenzmuseum in Munich, Pavlovsk Palace in St Petersburg and Palazzo Reale in Turin.  Interestingly, the back side of the enamel dial is signed Barbezat. Elie Barbezat, enameler in dials, working in rue Bertin Poiré from 1768,  was one of the best enamelers of the second half of the 18th century who worked with excellent clockmakers such as Imbert l’Ainé, Lepaute,  Julien Leroy and Robert Robin.

The chiseled and gilded bronze mantel clock is surmounted by a scene of Venus and Amor, anointing a dove, as a sacrificial fire burns on an altar between them. Venus is draped in a magnificent soft and flowing garment, with fine details of rich embroidery on her clothes and the jewelry that she wears. She stands to one side of the clock dial and holds a small shell shaped dish in her left hand from which she pours oil to anoint a dove. Venus gazes with tenderness at the Amor facing her, one hand resting on her breast, the other stretched out towards the dove. On the other side we see Amor as a putti who presents the dove to Venus. These two characters surround a white enamel dial indicating the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arabic numerals. The altar between them is inscribed “Autel à Venus” (Altar of Venus) and behind them rises a very beautiful flowering branch. The elaborately sculptural character of this scene and the fine materials reveal the high quality of this clock.

Supporting the main subject of the clock there is a two-tiered base. In the upper tier the angles are marked by powerful fluted pilasters framing a trophy of Love. It is composed of a pair of doves touching beaks before a crossed quiver of arrows and a flaming torch framed by leaves. Further, it stands out against a glass window through which one can see the pendulum move. In the lower tier we see an ebony wooden plinth with recesses, embellished on the front and sides with a very elegant decor of geometric interlacing punctuated with flowers. Finally, this clock rests on four feet.

This type of clock with a figurative subject was highly appreciated under Louis XVI for the lightness of the themes addressed and the high quality of the materials used. Some variants of this clock model are known to exist, such as one with a white marble base. In comparison with some of the variants, the clock that we present here shows more finely chiseled details, such as the jewelry on the clothes of Venus.

Details of this Louis XVI period mantel clock “Altar of Venus”

This very rare Louis XVI period mantel clock is in an excellent state of preservation with magnificent original mercury gilding. The back plate of the movement is signed “Imbert Paris” and the white enameled dial is signed “Imbert L’ainé”. It shows Roman numerals for the hours and Arabic numerals for the minutes.  Further, the movement has gilt bronze openwork hands, wire suspension and outside count wheel striking the hour and half hours on a bell. Finally, the back side of the enamel dial is signed by the famous enameler Elie Barbezat (see photos).

The clock has been serviced by a professional clock maker and is in perfect working condition and comes complete with pendulum, bell and key.

Paris, circa 1775-1780.
Dimensions: 43 cm high, 30 cm wide and 12,5 cm deep.
Weight: 11,4 kg.

Jean-Gabriel Imbert “Imbert l’aîné” (1735 – 1795)

Jean-Gabriel Imbert “Imbert l’aîné” (1735 – 1795) was one of the most important Parisian clock makers of the last quarter of the 18th century.  He was born in Devalon in Bourgogne in 1735 and came to Paris as a young man to complete his apprenticeship with his brother-in-law Jean-Charles Olin. Exercising at first as an independent, he became a maître in 1776 and opened his own workshop. Rapidly gaining fame, he was elected deputy of his guild in 1780. Imbert signed his clockworks “Imbert l’aîné”.

In 1767 Jean-Gabriel Imbert was based in the Carrefour de la Roquette, in 1781 in the rue Planche-Mibray, three years later in the rue des Arcis and at the time of his death in June 1795 in the rue de Monceau.

Imbert was one of the best clock makers and dealers, and was only satisfied with the best quality. As such he used only the finest suppliers including Richard and Gaspard Monginot who made his springs while his dials were generally made by Georges-Adrien Merlet, Elie Barbezat or Bezelle. He obtained clock cases from a number of Parisian bronze casters, notably Robert and Jean-Baptiste Osmond, Nicolas Bonnet, Michel Poisson, François Vion, Jean Goyer, René-François Morlay and Léonard Mary, and these cases were gilded by Le Cat and H. Martin.

During the 18th century, his clocks were acquired by the most influential connoisseurs, such as the Marquis de Brunoy, the Duke des Deux-Ponts, the Viscount de Rochechouart and the wife of the extremely wealthy Farmer General Jean-Maurice de Faventines.


  • Collection of University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), 2001/2.82.
  • Sotheby’s New York, 11 October 2012, where a clock of this model with a marble base appeared in auction.

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