Collecting Antique Clocks Jacques Layllet - maker of an extraordinary French lantern clock
A very handsome French lantern clock came to light recently signed Jacques Layllet A Paris - the A and P are joined together as usual in Parisian clocks for 'a Paris' (in Paris). This is probably the finest French lantern clock I have ever seen. I could not trace this maker under that spelling of the surname, but he must surely be the same one listed in Baillie as Jacques Laillet, as i and y were often randomly interchangeable in seventeenth century French, as they were in English. Baillie listed him as of Evreux in 1635, when he was called in as an expert for advice on problems with the clock of the church of St. Laurent in Rouen. Evreux and Rouen are about 50 miles NW and N of Paris respectively.
I would guess this lantern clock dates from the 1640s, maybe 50s, a little later than his known date at Evreux. Presumably Jacques Layllet moved to work in Paris. Perhaps his advice on the Rouen clock was found to be sound and his reputation preceded him there. The clock is said to have belonged until recently to the same French family for whom it was made, though no original receipt survives. That is hardly surprising as I don't know of any lantern clock of this age which had a surviving original receipt, and I doubt any exist.
At first I thought this shield with three cockerels was some form of the internationally recognised French cockerel, a symbol we understand today as being typically French - though this proved later not to be so. It was only when I came to think about it that realised that I had absolutely no idea why the cockerel should be associated with France. The French national coat of arms, deriving from the French Royal Arms, is the well-known three gold fleurs-de-lys on a blue ground. In the course of my searching into this coat of arms I came across the answer.
The cockerel symbol is believed to have come down from the time when France was a part of Gaul, which was from time to time part of, and usually rebelling against, the Roman Empire. The Roman word for Gaul was Gallia, which was very similar to the Latin word Gallina, meaning a chicken. In warring against the Country of the Gauls, the Romans would have described the territory as 'Patria Gallorum', or perhaps 'Patria Gallicorum', no doubt giving them a good laugh at the same time as putting down their enemies, as it was only a slip of the tongue removed from 'Patria Gallinorum', meaning a nation of chickens. It seems the Gauls took this as their national emblem, not as a chicken but as a fighting cock - a way of cocking a snook at the Romans.
Finally I traced the coat of arms on the clock, which appears to be that of the family named Coquebert de Neuville from the old Province of Brittany, and runs back to 1565. In French heraldic language these arms are described as 'de gueules aux trois coqs hardis d'or'. English heraldic terms derive from the French, but today English heraldry would use the word 'jules' instead of the older spelling of 'gueules' to signify the colour red. The background colour is always stated first in heraldic descriptions. It translates as a shield 'of red with three golden cockerels'. A coq is a cockerel, a coq hardi is literally a bold cockerel, or one sticking its chest out, a bit like a lion rampant but even with Gallic pride you could hardly have called it a cockerel rampant!
The 'coq' device presumably derives from a play on the surname Coquebert. This is the only coat of arms I could find with three cockerels, though others exist with different numbers of cockerels. I'm not too well up in French heraldry, but if it is anything like English heraldry, then the helmet would seem to be that of a peer.
The clock belonged in recent generations to a French family of title, who, being bombed out of their house in Caen in 1944, moved to Rouen, the very city where Jacques Laylett worked on the church clock. However, the arms on the clock are not those of the last owners, but of a different branch of the family, distant cousins, which suggests that at some time the clock was passed between relatives of the same family.
The front fret contains the shield, which is held by two lions, known as 'supporters'. The side frets contain two male figures ('supporters' of arms) holding an initial L under a crown, which is a Royal crown - Royal crowns are covered and all others are open to the sky!. L happens to be the initial of the maker's surname, but his clients would hardly have wanted to display the maker's initial at the sides as well as his name on the dial, and my guess is that the L is there as a show of support for Louis, King Louis XIV that is. I imagine most French noble families would have thought it was a pretty good idea to show support for their King, at least at a time before the French Revolution!
The original iron hand is beautifully sculpted in three dimensions with a wonderfully curved sword-hilt base. The pillars are what I call 'integral castings' with the finials and feet all in one piece. This is the typical French way of making lantern clock pillars, a method which was also adopted by some English lantern clock makers, especially at this early period, perhaps influenced by the French.
The clock was made with a balance wheel control, but was converted long ago to a verge pendulum. In other words it was modernised to improve the timekeeping, perhaps three hundred or so years ago.. This means it was made with the hammer positioned on the right (as you face the clock), an almost certain sign by which to recognise a clock which originally had balance wheel control. A clock made with a pendulum (of any sort, i.e. verge or anchor) will have the hammer on the left - with very few exceptions.
In size it is slightly taller than a typical English lantern clock, with a dimension of eleven inches from foot to finial tip, against a typical English height of just over ten inches. With a plate dimension of six inches square, a chapter ring diameter of six and a quarter inches and a chapter ring width of one inch, it stands equal to the widest of the standard English lantern clocks of this period.
It is a wonderful clock. The engraving of the dial is excellent with a bold yet delicate tracery of flowers. Flowers were very important in the past, much more so than today, when we can buy them any day of the year from any supermarket. At this period in history when winter lasted a dreary six months of the year, and travel on muddy roads was difficult if not impossible, the representation of flowers heralded the spring time, a time which brought a release from being confined to the house. It was in the spring that men went on pilgrimages, and perhaps the winged head engraved in the dial centre represents God or an angel looking down over garlands of flowers to ensure their renewal every spring. Whether watched over by angels or not, this amazing clock has somehow survived the three hundred and fifty or more years since it was made. It was a pleasure to be able to handle it.
Copyright © 2013 Brian Loomes
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