Once upon a time… In the late 18th century and early 19th century, Paris was the beating heart of Europe. In this glamorous city, beauty was brought to life. Both artists and craftsmen led the way in sculpture and applied art in what we call the La Belle Époque. One of the most exclusive and refined products made in Paris during this time were gilt bronze narrative mantel clocks. These showpieces could be found in royal courts and in the apartments owned by nobles throughout Europe.
On 21 May 2022, in a stunning town house on Museumplein square, right between the Van Gogh and the Moco Museum, a pop-up museum will host the Once Upon a Time exhibition. These works of art can be seen by the public for the first time, and only during this exhibition which runs until 30 October 2022.
The gilt bronze artworks in Once Upon a Time are mantel clocks depicting stories from various periods, including classical antiquity and Greek and Roman mythology, in which gods and goddesses such as Apollo, Venus, and Cupid are key protagonists. Additionally, the collection includes clocks depicting Egyptian figures, hieroglyphs, and obelisks, the fall of Troy, and events from the early days of Rome. The stories include themes such as love, longing, jealousy, and temptation, as well as trickery and deceit.
Other clocks refer to the time in which they were made by depicting everyday life in Paris or special events such as the arrival of the two famous rhinos in Europe.
The beautiful Leda is the wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta. One day, the supreme god Jupiter spies her bathing in the Euratus River. He is so impressed by her beauty that he has to give in to his lust and transforms himself into a swan. He asks Venus for help and she turns into an eagle to hunt the swan Jupiter. It is a successful plan, Leda opens her arms and presses the bird against her breast to protect it. While Leda is holding it like this, she falls asleep and Jupiter strikes. As a result of this event, Leda lays two eggs nine months later, from each of which a girl and a boy are born. One of the girls is Helena. She grows up to be a woman of overwhelming beauty who becomes known throughout the Greek world. She also plays a key role in the most famous war.
Leda and the Swan, Deverberie & Cie, 1803-1805.
The sun god Apollo makes the sun rise and set. His sun chariot is pulled by four horses and so each morning he climbs up the firmament to its highest point, only to begin the descent. This pendulum shows the stormy horses that have just begun the steep descent; the most difficult part of the entire ride.
This mantel clock comes from the famous workshop of Pierre Philipe Thomire and is one of the most impressive mantel clocks in the collection. This is because of the beautiful details of this clock. Thomire once started as a chaser, the craft responsible for working out all the details, and clearly set high standards for his workers. The facial expressions of the horses are phenomenal, dynamic and very evocative.
This clock is very rare and only a small number of them were made. For example, a similar clock is in the State Dining Room at Buckingham Palace (London).
Apollo drives his sun chariot across the zodiac, Pierre Philippe Thomire, 1796 – 1805.
With the motto, “Conviviality knows no time,” this clock refers to an anecdote in which the hostess wanted her guests to stay for a longer period of time and, to prevent them from leaving, covered the clock with a cloth so they could not see the time. This was a popular theme for pendulums where the dial, instead of the hands, moves to indicate the time. Another explanation is that the beautiful lady wants to stop time from moving forward by covering it with a cloth so she doesn’t age and the young Cupid wants to pull the cloth away as well as age.
It was a popular theme and was praised by various commentators in the early 19th century. A remarkable detail is that in this mantel clock but the dial moves, instead of the hands.
Love hides time, André Antoine Ravrio, 1813
Over the next few months, Museumplein 4 will be transformed into the perfect setting for the extravagant mantel clocks. Judith van Mourik, an interior designer who works in domestic and international contexts and who has several award-winning projects to her name, is responsible for designing the exhibition. The museum café on the second floor affords unique views over Museumplein.
The free audio tours tell the stories of the clocks and explain how to better appreciate the details and the craftsmanship. At our museum you can enjoy our free audiotour in Dutch, English, French and German. It is possible to use your own headphone in the Podcatcher.
In May 2022, the oeuvre catalog “Une Odyssée en Pendules, Chefs-d’oeuvre de la Collection Parnassia’’ written by art historian Jean-Dominique Augarde is published.
You can buy the English and French version in our museum shop or send an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send the catalog to you.