Lot Essay Thomas Weeks established his renowned museum of 'mechanical curiosities' at Nos. 3 & 4 Tichbourne Street in about 1797. The attractions included various animated animals and insects, ingenious clocks, self-playing organs, toys, animated spiders and birds of paradise. His collection was sold off by auction in 1834 following his death. The premises also included an adjoining shop where items signed by Weeks were offered for sale.
Clocks incorporating figures of rhinoceros, elephants, bulls and lions were highly fashionable in mid-18th century Paris. The arrival of a live rhinoceros in Rotterdam in 1741, with its subsequent travel to Versailles in early January 1749 and then to Paris where it remained from February to April 1749, exemplifies how current events and fashion were so closely intertwined. Inevitably, the marchands-merciers were quick to seize upon the mania created by the exotic animal's presence, and proceeded to supply objects au rhinoceros.
The earliest version of a mantel clock with a rhinoceros base predates 1747, when the inventory drawn upon the death of the wife of mâtre-fondeur Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain, mentions: deux pendules au rhinoceros l'une pour modle et l'autre finie prises ensembles la somme de 140 l. As this predates the 1749 pilgrimage of the Rotterdam rhinoceros to Paris, it is likely that Saint-Germain had looked to popular graphic sources such as Albrecht Dürer's celebrated engraving of 1515. Dürer's print of an Indian rhinoceros is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros, but depicts the skin almost like plates of armor, fastened by rivets and seams like an impressive piece of machinery. The present lot is a more naturalistically modelled representation with soft wrinkle lines and folds in the leathery rhinoceros skin.
Dodington Park was acquired by the Codrington family in the late 16th century, who originally occupied a traditional gabled Elizabethan home and adjacent church. In 1764, the home was occupied by Sir William Codrington, who took the first step in renovating the grounds by hiring Capability Brown to redesign the landscape of the park. When his nephew, Christopher Bethell Codrington inherited Dodington Park, he commissioned James Wyatt to redesign the manor house. Between 1798 and 1816, Wyatt undertook the renovations completing the building that stands today. Wyatt, a rival of Robert Adam, worked prominently in the neoclassical and neo-Gothic styles. His most famous commission is the extraordinary Gothic revival Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, England. Dodington Park was built in a classical Roman style of architecture, and Wyatt designed a different façade for each side of the house. The adjoining Elizabethan church of St. Mary was also completely rebuilt by Wyatt in the late 18th century. Wyatt reconstructed the church alongside the curved glass conservatory completed in 1799, serving as an early example of the Regency taste for integrating the home and garden. The present lot was almost certainly acquired by Christopher Bethell Codrington at this time, perfectly in line with the fashionable Regency tastes.