You are here


Back to the Collection


Made by: Unknown

On view in: Dining Room

About this object

This bust of an African Princess is elegantly dressed with a feathered turban and bejeweled with earrings that would have activated an ingenious clock mechanism and musical chimes. In pulling the right earring, the hour would have appeared in roman numerals in the right eye. A pull of the left earring would have indicated the minutes in arabic numerals in the left eye. On the hour, music would play and the figure's eyes would open. Although highly finished with gilt bronze, patinated bronze, and marble, Hillwood’s bust is merely a case. The movements in the head that would have activated the digits in the eyes, as well as the musical chimes, are missing and the tiny pipe organ was never installed in the base. Once completed, it would have destined for an important royal or aristocratic client. Four other versions of this clock are known, including one in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Palacio Real, Madrid (without a music box), and the Royal Collection Trust. The fourth model of this clock, made around 1784 by clockmaker to the king, Jean Baptiste-André Furet (French, ca. 1720-1807), was delivered to Queen Marie Antoinette as a New Year's gift at the Tuileries Palace in 1792 and is now in a private collection. Before its delivery, the clock was exhibited in Furet’s window shop where flocks of passersby stopped to contemplate it in awe. Perhaps it was never completed due to the French Revolution.

The upper portion consists of a bust of an African princess on a pedestal foot. The face, the neck, bare left shoulder and breast are lacquered black. She wears a turban with an aigrette rising from a bow on her forehead, and a low-cut robe edged with fur and fringe. A garland of flowers hangs down over the left shoulder, and a bow and arrows in a quiver hang at the back. The bust sits on a large, stepped box-like base in white and black marble on which perch two winged putti, each holding a fragment of a garland. On the front plaque four putti in low relief carry dead game. On either side are white marble plaques with applied urns, scrolls and flowers in gilt bronze. Both short ends bear openwork plaques with the caduceus and cap of Mercury within two crossed laurel sprays. Below the plaque is a band of acanthus leaves. The clock rests on six circular feet.

Object name:
Made from:
Bronze -- gilt bronze -- marble
Made in:
Paris, France
Date made:
ca. 1785
74.9 × 39.4 cm (29 1/2 × 15 1/2 in.)

Detailed information for this item

Catalog number:
Signature marks:
Credit line:
Bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post, 1973
Featured in publication:
"A Taste for Splendor: Russian Imperial and European Treasures from the Hillwood Museum","Spectacular: Gems and Jewelry from the Merriweather Post Collection"