(French; b. Paris, 1751-d. Paris, 1843)
Case: Pierre-Philippe Thomire (French 1751-1843)
Signed and dated: Thomire 1789
Clock: Robert Robin (French 1742-1799)
Signed on the dial: Robin / Hger Du Roi
(Robin / Clockmaker to the King)
William A. Clark Collection. Restored through funds given in memory of Alice Withington Clement, member of the Women's Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art
The Clock of the Vestals marked the passing of the hours in Queen Marie-Antoinette’s boudoir, or private sitting room, in the Tuileries Palace in Paris, adjacent to the Palais du Louvre. The royal family was forced to move there in October 1789 after a mob of Parisians attacked the palace at Versailles, the official residence of the king for over 100 years. In the Tuileries the king and queen held court in gilded splendor but were state prisoners nonetheless. Their last unhappy days together were passed in this palace before they were permanently separated in the mean quarters where they awaited their executions in 1793.
The vestals were virgins who had consecrated their lives to Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth. It was their duty to keep the sacred fire perpetually burning upon her altar. The scene on the clock may depict the moment when the vestals, warned of the approach of the Gauls (c. 389), took the sacred fire and vessels from the temple and fled from Rome to Caere, a nearby city.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (French, 1751–1843), who made the case for the clock, was one of the most important artists to work in gilded bronze. Robert Robin (French, 1742–99) made the clock itself. The position of Horloger du Roi (Clockmaker to the King) also required attendance at court for part of the year. At least sixteen versions of the Clock of the Vestals are known, each having some variation in materials and secondary elements. The clock in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, dated 1788, is closest in appearance to the Corcoran clock.