By Deanna Schiavone
This week, we will be looking at a 1788 French clock adorned with Cupid resting over the clock face. This clock is protected with a glass dome and rests on a black wooden base. The clock itself is on an oval base with black painting and adorned with gold gilt and has a porcelain face with black roman numerals on the dial. Cupid is reclining above the clock on leaves and grapes. He is holding his iconic bow and arrow as he waits for time to pass by. This piece was made in the midst of three important movements to French history and during the most important revolution in France. Two of these movements were art movements, Rococo and Neoclassical, which were in transition during the Enlightenment era and the French Revolution.
The arts in France in the early 18th century were dominated by Rococo. This movement was inspired by the ornamental arts in Europe. There was a heavy focus on “asymmetry, naturalism, pastel colors, light-heartedness and delicate shell-like and watery forms.”1 Artists tended to depict scenes of erotic mythology and genre scenes. However, during the Enlightenment there was a shift away from this light movement and a shift toward Neoclassicism.
The Enlightenment era was dominated by politics and philosophies from classical antiquity. During, and right before, the French Revolution (1789-1799) artists tried to depict the moral and political purposes of public virtue and personal sacrifice in their artwork.2 This began the transition from Rococo to Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism started in Rome in the mid-18th century and was heavily influenced by the excavation and exploration of the ancient world.3 The excavations and influence from archaeologists helped to fully understand styles of art and architecture in Ancient Greece and Rome.
This clock is fun because it teaches a lot about the transition from Rococo into Neoclassicism. Cupid, someone the modern person associates with Valentine’s Day, was known as Eros to the Greeks and as Cupid to the Romans. He was the god of desire, affection, and erotic love whose arrows would fill a person with uncontrollable desire. This depiction of the god of love is Eros because the Greeks depicted their version as a slender winged youth, unlike the Romans who depicted this god as the chubby baby we associate with Valentine’s Day.4 The Greek god Eros was one of the premortal gods, meaning he was self-born at the beginning of time. He was thought to help form the world because his uniting power of love brought order and harmony to the conflictions from chaos.5 This god is a great transitional depiction since Eros embodies the erotic mythology of Rococo but also had the uniting elements appreciated in the Enlightenment and Neoclassical styles.
1 “Neo-classicism & The French Revolution.” Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
2 “18th– and 19th-Century France – Neoclassicism.” National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art: Washington, D.C., n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
3 “Neo-classicism & The French Revolution.” Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
4 Atsma, Alan J. “Eros.” Theoi Greek Mythology. New Zealand, The Theoi Project: 2000. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.