The Temple of Apollo
This remarkable plaque combines fine and decorative arts; the work of leading sculptor, Michael Rysbrack, decorative painter Jacopo Amigoni and watchmaker Charles Clay. Clay's musical clocks were fitted with watch movements. The plaque may have been intended for the 'Temple and Oracle of Apollo', a musical clock projected by Clay, but unfinished at his death in 1740.
Clay instructed his wife to destroy the clock parts 'which had cost him about 20 Years Time, and upwards of 2000 l. to bring to Perfection…..to prevent further Expence of the Time and Money of any one who should attempt to finish it after his Death'. However his widow regarded the unfinished clock as her husband's masterpiece and exhibited the parts for the benefit of 'Gentlemen and Ladies, Encouragers of Art and exquisite Workmanship' from November 1741 in their home opposite St Mary's Le Strand, and from August 1743 in Cecil Street off the Strand, charging half a crown admission from ten in the morning till nine at night. She described it thus:
'The solid Parts of the Fabrick are of Silver gilt: the Pillars, as also the Doors and other Lights into it, are made of Rock Chrystal, curiously engraved and adorned with Silver Mouldings, Capitals and Bases. It is embellished with a great Number of solid Silver Figures both within and without; most of which are gilt, and the Whole is covered with a most curious Foliage of Enamel'd Work, pierced and embossed in so beautiful a Style and Manner'. As the dial and movement were never fitted into the plaque, the substitute curtain in the dial aperture was probably in place by 1741 when the clock parte were first exhibited.
The Temple and Oracle of Apollo was assembled by another clockmaker - possibly John Pyke, who succeeded Charles Clay in making musical clocks. It can be identified with the 'Organ Clock in a Black Case with Glass Columns' sold for only £94 10s to Augusta, Princess of Wales in 1759 by John Pyke's son George, who also made musical clocks. The spectacular organ clock now in the State Apartments at Windsor Castle with its enamelled rock crystal casket, signed and dated 1664 by Melchior Baumgartner (1621-1686) of Augsburg, corresponds with the description of 'The Temple and Oracle of Apollo' in advertisements in the London newspapers of 1741 and 1743. Displayed at Kensington Palace during the reign of George III, it was further embellished for George IV's Carlton House, London, and transferred to the Green Drawing Room at Windsor Castle in the mid 1820s. It was restored to playing order fifteen years ago. The V&A's plaque was not used in the final assembly.
The plaque is currently displayed in the Whiteley Silver Galleries alongside silver by the Maynard Master, Paul de Lamerie's talented modeller who was working from 1732 to 1745, and like Rysbrack, trained in Antwerp. As another version of the relief was cast in silver, this plaque shows the close working relationship between sculptors and goldsmiths in mid 18th-century London. Clay's clocks played music by Handel, Geminiani and Corelli. The organ mechanism would be activated by making Apollo strum his lyre. An appropriate companion to Roubiliac's 1738 statue of Handel, showing the composer in the guise of Apollo playing his lyre, the plaque may later be displayed in the British Galleries.
Acquired with the Hugh Phillips Bequest, support from Alan Rubin and the Cahn Family Foundation