Charles de Lorraine’s clock

Adrien Demeure
c. 1770

Charles de Lorraine – a passion for measuring time

As Governor General, Charles de Lorraine (1712-1780) represented his sister-in-law, the Empress Marie-Thérèse, in the Austrian Netherlands. His special interest in time measurement became famous. This passion was part of the wider interest in engineering and positivism that emerged during the 17th century’s Age of Enlightenment. Charles de Lorraine had some 175 watches and clocks, as well as ingenious and playful automatons of particular appeal. The Governor wrote of his collection in his personal diaries and made notes of his comments and experience on small cardboard cards.

Exceptional identification

Although clocks and watches can only rarely be identified for certain, there is no doubt whatsoever about the identification of this clock acquired by the King Baudouin Foundation. Its finish and its mechanism are carefully described in the catalogue of the sale organized in 1781following the death of Charles de Lorraine. The clock is the work of Adrien Demeure (1729-1799), a Brussels clockmaker who was given the job of caring for the Governor general’s collection, with the help of Joseph Jacquemin, and who made numerous watches and clocks for him.

A decorative motif

The clock is in gilded bronze, mounted on a marble base decorated with two rows of beads. The cylindrical pillar hung with drapery and the cover surmounted by a fire evoke the altars created in honour of the sacred fire in Roman antiquity. In the foreground, a young woman in high relief is immersed in reading a book, whilst her arm rests on a small drum that projects out and holds the clock face. In this composition, the accent is thus on the clock’s decorative function, which was an innovation in the 1770s.

The clock’s complex symbolism

Here, the sacred fire symbolizes eternity. The young woman holding a book is derived from the allegory of the Three Graces and linked to the theme of reading. She can be interpreted as a personification of the Vigil. In the background, the cock announces the start of a new day. The clock thus represents the entire nocturnal cycle, from dusk to dawn.

A sophisticated mechanism

This clock enables us to tell the time during the day and the night. The vertical clock face, in enamel, shows the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arab numerals. Above, a wheel with Roman numerals forms the horizontal clock face, which is fitted on the inside with a small oil lamp that enables you to tell the time in the dark.

Publication « Charles de Lorraine. Pendule-veilleuse de ses appartements. »

Website Royal Museums of Art and History

Further information about the Heritage Fund (in French)

Material / technique: 
Gilded bronze and marble
42 x 22,4 cms
Type of acquisition: 
Heritage Fund Acquisition
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels