Exquisite mythological Empire clock “Allegory of Commerce”

Mythological Empire clock “Allegory of Commerce”

This exceptionally rare mythological Empire mantel clock of museum quality depicts Mercury, the mythological god of commerce, messages and travelers,  in an allegory of commerce. Its gilt and patinated bronze case is modeled as a bale of tobacco leaves, housing the clockwork. We see Mercury leaning over the merchandise and holding a purse in his right hand. Further, in his left hand he holds his staff (caduceus). The sculpture of Mercury with his winged helmet (petasus) and winged sandals (talaria) is of high quality, very refined and lifelike.

On the other side of the bale there is a rum barrel, symbol for goods imported from overseas. The anchor and steering rudder are symbols for seafaring, which is the base for trade. The centre of the bale of tobacco leaves features the clockwork with gilt bronze hands and a white enamel dial with Roman numerals.

Further, the octagonal gilt and patinated bronze base is adorned with a central bas-relief motif featuring putti occupied with aspects of the trade of goods from colonial countries. One of the putti is rolling a barrel of rum, another one is busy carting a bale of tobacco, and another one is busy recording everything neatly at a desk. Finally, on the truncated corners there are small decorations of scales and tools for writing, completing the theme of commerce.

This type of Empire clock with an allegory on trade and shipping was very popular during the French Empire. Consequently they were made to the taste of their future owners and there are several known versions. One known version is the one called “Le Matelot” featuring a black sailor instead of Mercury.  On 13 August 1808, Pierre Mathieu Augustin Michel deposited the pen and ink drawing for that clock model at the Bibliothèque Impériale. At that time the model was already being produced, but Michel wanted to register his rights as designer and owner of this model.

This interesting and very rare mythological Empire mantel clock “Allegory of Commerce” with Mercury is a true collector’s piece. It is a beautiful clock of high manufacturing quality with superb mercury gilding.

Details of this Empire clock “Allegory of Commerce”

The eight-days going movement has a wire suspension pendulum. It strikes the hour and half hour on a bell. The clock has been professionally cleaned and the clockwork is in a very good working condition. The clock comes complete with its pendulum, key and bell.

Paris, circa 1805-1810.

Dimensions: 39 cm high, 30 cm wide, 10 cm deep.
Weight: 6 kg.


  • Hans Ottomeyer & Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus”, München 1986, p. 381.
  • Elke Niehüser, “French Bronze Clocks”, p. 142-143 and p. 236 #822.
  • Pierre Kjellberg, “Encyclopédie de la pendule française”, p. 343.

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