Watches and Watchmakers: Caring For Time

There are over 200 watches held in the Quirinal Palace and they are cared for and repaired in the watchmakers' laboratory. The artifacts come largely from the most important pre-unification Italian palaces

By Quirinale Palace

The Tapestry Room of Lille at the time of Queen Margaret (19th century) by The use of the Tapestry Room in Lille has changed over time. Originally it was a large antechamber which gave access to the pontiff's private rooms. In the 1700s it was used together with the Bronzino Room for audiences and consistories. During the Napoleonic occupation, the room was divided in two to create Napoleon's bathroom and bedroom. The original dimensions were restored by Pope Pius VII, on his return to Rome. With the transformation of the Quirinale into the royal palace of Italy, the room became the bedroom of Queen Margherita. The elaborate mirrors with gilded frames that enrich the walls of the room date back to this period.Quirinale Palace

From the day after the capture of Rome (September 20, 1870), the administration of the Royal House of Savoy made every effort to furnish the rooms by bringing a large number of clocks (mainly French) to the Quirinal Palace.

French manifacture clock (18th century, circa 1750) by Cartel clock. Clockwork: Charles BeauvillanQuirinale Palace

Made after the introduction of the pendulum, the French clocks are elegant and lavish. They celebrate the frivolity and carelessness of time, rather than the inevitable passing of the hours towards death and decay.

French manifacture clock (17th century, 90s) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Nicolas II HanetQuirinale Palace

Louis XIV style

Nicolas II Hanet's mantel clock dates back to the last decade of the 17th century and comes from the Ducal Palace in Parma. It is a highly valuable artifact that is symbolic of this period of stylistic transformation.

French manifacture clock (End of 17th century) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Gilles MartinotQuirinale Palace

In contrast, the work of Gilles Martinot, Louis XIV's watchmaker, reflects an earlier style. However, its gilt bronze and tortoiseshell inlays mark the start of a new intellectual wave.
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English manifacture clock (End of 17th century) by Tower clock. Clockwork: John Ebsworth. Body: Florence Grand-ducal manifactureQuirinale Palace

Grandfather clocks

The two grandfather clocks, both with English-made mechanisms, come from different cultural backgrounds. The first is signed by John Ebsworth. The case was made before 1692 in the grand-ducal workshops in Florence for a member of Cosimo III dei Medici's family.

English manifacture clock (1714/1731) by Tower clock. Clockwork: Robert HiggsQuirinale Palace

The other grandfather clock, with walnut briar veneer and profiling, is the work of Robert Higgs. He produced it in London between 1714 and 1731. This beautiful clock is the only one in the Quirinal Palace from the papal era.

French manifacture clock (First quarter of 18th century) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Jacques PanierQuirinale Palace

Regency style

One of the most significant and fascinating works in the Regency style held in the Quirinal collection is a beautiful clock by Jacques Panier. It is characterized by its gilt bronze applique that depicts a crane and a female figure holding a book which bears the inscription “vides presentem futuram cogita (look to the present and think about the future)."

French manifacture clock (First quarter of 18th century) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: ThurelQuirinale Palace

Equally representative of the Regency style is the clock of the watchmaker Thurel. Curved lines characterize its case and, on its lower part, there is an applique depicting the Centaur Nessus kidnapping Deianira.

French manifacture clock (First half of 18th century) by Pendulum clockQuirinale Palace

Regency clock cases progressively accentuate curved lines and are decorated with a rich repertoire of figures, fantastic beasts, and exotic or bizarre decorative plants.

French manifacture clock (18th century, 50s) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Ferdinand Berthoud. Body: Joseph de Saint-GermainQuirinale Palace

Louis XV style

The gradual abandonment of classical foundations and straight and balanced lines, which started in the Regency style, developed further in the so-called Louis XV style. This style is characterized by asymmetrical and picturesque shapes, as well as curved and whimsical lines.

French manifacture clock (18th century, circa 50s or 60s) by Pendulum clockQuirinale Palace

The combination of natural and fantasy elements with oriental decorative motifs enabled a definitive transition from parallelepiped cases to rounded and curved cases.

French manifacture clock (circa 1750) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Denis MassonQuirinale Palace

This clock by Denis Masson is in the grand Louis XV style. Using the allegorical figure of a cherub burning his weapons, it celebrates the aspiration for peace during the Seven Years' War. Made around 1750, it arrived at the Quirinal Palace in 1888.

French manifacture clock (circa 1752-1753) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Jean Biesta. Body: Jean-Pierre LatzQuirinale Palace

The splendid clock, made between 1752 and 1753 by Pierre Latz and Jean Biesta, came from the Ducal Palace of Colorno and is one of the best and most significant examples of the rocaille decoration of the mid-1700s.

French manifacture clock (Beginning of 19th century) by Pendulum clockQuirinale Palace

Empire style

Neoclassical taste led to the inclusion of features in the shape of urns, temples, and lyres, as well as allegorical and mythological subjects. This trend also became widely developed in the Empire style through a renewed interest in Greco-Roman and ancient Egyptian culture.

French manifacture clock (Beginning of 19th century) by Pendulum clock. Body: Antoine-Andre RavrioQuirinale Palace

The clocks are enriched with references to mythology, history, tragedy, images of temples, symbols of war, and Roman weapons. In the Quirinal collection, there are several examples of the Empire style, including two pendulum clocks made between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century.

French manifacture clock (Between 1789 and 1806) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: Charles-Guillaume Manière fils.Quirinale Palace

The first is a pendulum clock by Charles-Guillame Manière fils, which takes up the L’Emploie du Temps (Employment of Time) theme developed by Laurent Guiard for Madame Geoffrin as early as 1754.

French manifacture clock (Beginning of 19th century) by Pendulum clock. Clockwork: BertonQuirinale Palace

The second is a pendulum clock made by Berton, which also adopts the same theme.

French manifacture clock (1815/1848) by Pendulum clockQuirinale Palace

During the Restoration period, the figurative and symbolic focus on themed pendulum clocks increased. One example is the beautiful clock, perhaps attributable to Claude Galle, which depicts the conversation between Hippolytus and Theseus, taken from the tragedy, Fedra.

French manifacture clock (19th century, 40s or 50s) by Pendulum clock. Body: Frère LerolleQuirinale Palace

Second Empire style

In the age of the Second Empire, there was a progressive fusion of forms with an evident reinterpretation of the Louis XV style. This mantel clock, created by the Frères Lerolle, is a fine example of how grand, complex, and extravagant decorative elements coexisted with the elegant workmanship of specific details.

French manifacture clock (mid-19th century) by Pendulum clock. Body: Ferdinand BarbedienneQuirinale Palace

Even the work of Ferdinand Barbedienne, which can be dated to the mid-19th century, incorporates Louis XV style motifs with a cartouche dial that emphasizes the old-fashioned nature of the decorative motifs used.

Astronomical clock

One of the most curious clocks in the Quirinal collection has to be the astronomical clock, made by brothers Frédéric and Henri Courvoisier who were descendants of a dynasty of watchmakers active since the 1600s. The column-shaped case is in white alabaster, resting on a wooden base and finished with decorated motifs and a flower. The dial, in enamel and gilded metal and with Arabic numerals indicating the hours, is surrounded by a crown in chiseled bronze and beads.

Astronomical shelf clock, French manifacture, 1815/1848, From the collection of: Quirinale Palace
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There is a gilt bronze ring on the upper part of the clock featuring 12 diamond-shaped enameled plates, each dedicated to the signs of the Zodiac. At the top of the ring are the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. The astronomical clock is, in fact, equipped with a complex mechanism that indicates the position of the Earth with respect to the Sun and the Moon with respect to the Earth. It also marks the day, month, year, and signs of the zodiac in a perpetual calendar that includes leap years.

Detail of the Astronomical Clock, Frédéric and Henri Courvoisier & Comp., 1815/1848, From the collection of: Quirinale Palace
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Detail of the Astronomical Clock, Frédéric and Henri Courvoisier & Comp., 1815/1848, From the collection of: Quirinale Palace
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Horologist at workQuirinale Palace

The watchmakers of the Quirinal Palace

The clocks kept in the Quirinal Palace are in perfect working order thanks to the maintenance of the watchmakers in the Palace's workshop, as well as the care of the cabinetmakers and gilders who have restored their precious cases.

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