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Claude Galle’s Historicism in Mantel Clock Artwork


Art has always been an integral part of human society. It originated from pictures on rocks made by first people in order to express their emotions. Since that time art has never stopped its development, obtaining new forms and ways of its expressing, dictating new rules and tendencies. However, its main purpose remains the same. Art helps people to express their feelings and emotions. With this in mind, it is possible to say that people want to express their attitude to some concrete moment in history, which is important for them. That is why, art of each epoch is unique and has its own peculiarities, which make it absolutely different from art of another period of history. Artists embodied peculiarities of their age in their works.

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Historicism in art

Having its own unique peculiarities, each period of our history inspires artists all over the world by its unique traditions, culture and beliefs. That is why, it is no wonder that a great number of adherers of different phases of history and their peculiarities appeared. These people are interested in everything connected with their favorite phase of history. However, especially actual this process is for the world of art. There is a phenomena which appeared as a result of this interest and which obtained its own term historicism. Oxford dictionary gives definition to this term as great and even obsessive regard for styles of the past epochs and periods of history (“Historicism” para.1). Artists, working in this style try to reproduce all peculiarities of a certain age in their works, paying a lot of attention to materials, shapes and historical events which can influence development of certain traits in art of this period. They study masterpieces of different epochs in order to understand tendencies and create their own artwork, according to laws of a certain period of time. Moreover, sometimes phenomenon of historicism can be observed in attempt of an artist to embody all peculiarities of his epoch in an artwork and present the world a masterpiece which can be taken as reflection of modern tendencies in art at a certain time period.

Claude Galle

Claude Galle is one of artists which work in accordance with laws and ideas of historicism. His works can be taken as an embodiment of his age. However, he also tried to use some antique motifs in his works. He is famous for his affection to bronze and that is why he is known as one of the most famous bronziers of his age. He lived and worked at the time of great historical events and Napoleonic Wars. It is quite natural that they influenced development of his technique and preferences greatly. He managed to work with a great number of different famous artists of his age and he obtained their experience and skills. His most productive years coincided with the flush of French Empire. With this in mind, it is possible to state the fact that all works of Claude Galle have their unique character which reflects peculiarities of the age of French Empire.

Description of the work

One of the most famous work of Claude Galle, which combines all peculiarities of his style is his famous Mantel Clock which is dated to 1800-1810. The work presents itself a clock which is placed on a boat. There are two passengers on this boat. A boy and an old man. They are very symbolic. A boy is a winged creature, which is known as Cupid or Eros, a small child which brings love. Moreover, he is holding an oar in his hands, which symbolizes that love is a main moving force in our life. The second passenger is an old winged man with a scythe and clocks in his arms. It is possible to suggest that he symbolizes death. He is waiting for everyone, looking on his clock and counting days. The whole work can be taken as the symbol of transience of love and life.

According to traditions of the epoch, the clocks base is oblong with four legs which are very elaborated and of difficult shape. The pedestal is richly decorated with different objects made of gilded bronze. The clock has very solid and beautiful image at the same time

Works peculiarities and connection with historicism

First of all, it should be said that at the first gaze it is possible to admit that the artwork is done according to traditions and preferences of the age of Napoleonic Empire. It is possible to state this fact, judging on material and style of the work. The use of gilded bronze by different artists was very popular at the beginning of the 19th century, which is characterized by ideas of improving taste (Woodham xiv). It can be explained by increased technical skills of artists and industry in the whole, as it became very easy to produce and elaborate this metall. It became a new solution to some old ideas (Trench 571) and even a kind of revolution. That is why bronze became the main material for Empire style. It was cheaper than gold and silver and in order to underline luxurious character of an artwork, artists used gilded bronze (Fleming 432). This practice became very popular and this artwork is not an exception. Moreover, in conformity with the Empire style, it has a personage from Greek or Roman mythology, which underlines its correspondence to ideas of historicism. The work combines new tendencies of using bronze and some special shapes, peculiar for Napoleonic age with traditions of antiquity, using mythological creatures and classical Gods in the works decoration. The figure of Cupid shows a tight bond with ancient Greek art. It is possible to compare this figure with a famous sculpture Statue of Eros sleeping, which belong to Hellenistic period (“Statue of Eros Sleeping” para. 1). We can observe similar peculiarities such as curly hair, wings and plumpness. These traits underline the fact that Galle was influenced by historicism, making reference to works of antiquity in his art.


Having analyzed the idea of historicism and its peculiarities, it is possible to make certain conclusions. First of all, it should be said that each period of time in history has its own peculiarities which can be easily seen in artworks of a certain period. With this in mind, it is possible to call Claude Galles Mantel Clock a real reflection of his epoch. It is made in Empire style, which was popular at the beginning of 19th century. Use of materials and shapes can easily prove it. Gilded bronze was the most popular metal among artists and scenes from mythology of ancient Greece or Rome were often added in order to underline connection with Ancient world. Claude Galle was the adherer of historicism, trying to follow some peculiarities of art of antique empires.

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Works Cited

Fleming, John. The Penguin Dictionary of Decorative Arts. New York: Viking Adult. 1990. Print.

“Historicism”. Oxford Dictionary. n.d. Web.

Statue of Eros Sleeping. n.d. Web.

Trench, Lucy. Materials & Techniques in the Decorative Arts: An Illustrated Dictionary. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Print.

Woodham, Jonathan. A Dictionary of Modern Design. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Print.

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