A unique early 17th century Japanese clock driven celestial sphere, Edo, Tokugawa Shogunate, consisting of two copper hemispheres meeting on the ecliptic as a belt of small slots gilded with the 24 solar seasons, the surface chased with cloud-like patterns, gilded characters and hexagrams with pierced decoration revealing a box inside with a map representing the earth, on the internal ring the sun and the moon sit on smaller toothed rings to rotate and be positioned according to the solar season, the axis supported by an external frame holding the verger, foliate and crown wheel escapement enabling the sphere to rotate once daily following the apparent motion of the heavens, the stand of hexagonal form, h. 65 cm
Provenance: The Givaudan collection, Geneva
Brothers Xavier and Léon Givaudan were industrialists that had seen great success at the turn of the 20th century with the production of synthetic perfumes, soaps and chemicals. Assisted by some of the best art dealers of the time, the brothers took great pleasure in acquiring unusual and interesting works of art and important paintings. According to the family, the sphere was purchased by Léon Givaudan during the 1930s in Paris from Galerie Moreau-Gobard, an Asian art gallery. Having bought Bessinge Chateau in Cologny, Switzerland in 1938, the sphere was displayed in this beautiful home overlooking the city of Geneva and the lake.
The sphere was made in Japan during the first half of the 17th century by Japanese craftsmen and a clockmaker who had been advised on the East Asian astronomical tradition. This model seems to be the sole surviving example of its kind in the world. It was created to represent the movement of the heavens with the positions of the sun, moon and stars as seen from the observer on earth. The configuration of the sphere suggests that it was designed to be used at the latitude of Edo 江戶 (modern Tokyo), which was the capital of the Tokugawa shoguns who effectively ruled Japan from around 1600. The calculation of the latitude of the sphere corresponds to Edo at 35.6° N. The metallurgical testing on the sphere provided results that are consistent with a Japanese origin, from the first half of the 17th century.
Made of unalloyed copper, the two hemispheres were formed by hammering out two ingots until they were 2-3 mm thick. The outer surfaces are chased with curved lines to create cloud-like figures. The gilt ornamentation and characters were achieved by ‘fire gilding’ with a gold-mercury amalgam. The two hemispheres fit together with a slight overlap and are held together with screws to create a sphere of approximately 115 cm in circumference and 37 cm in diameter. One half corresponds to positions of the sun in the heavens in early winter, midwinter, spring and early summer. The other half corresponds to positions of the sun from early summer through midsummer to autumn and early winter.
Along the ecliptic (fig. 1) is a belt of 365 small rectangular slots representing the annual path of the sun from west to east against the background of the stars as seen from a terrestrial observer. As the solar cycle is measured from one winter solstice to the next in East Asia, the ecliptic is marked with the 24 equal periods of time. Known in Chinese as qi 氣, the name of each solar season consists of two characters. These are gilded on the sphere at intervals below the belt of slots along the ecliptic to represent 15 or 16 days in duration.
The surface is also gilded with six parallel circular bands running on a plane at right angles to the sphere’s axis of rotation. Two of the bands can be identified as the tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn. The north polar region (fig. 2) of the sphere is gilded with a circular zone of bands marked with the names of the 64 hexagrams. These are the basis of an ancient Chinese divinatory system set out in a text known as the ‘Book of Change’ Yi jing 易經. The hexagrams became the basis of an elaborate cosmological system through which all possible entities and processes were in theory correlated with a hexagram.
The lay out on the sphere is a version commonly known as the Fu Xi 伏羲. The south polar region (fig. 3) represents 100 equal ke 刻 marked as pierced holes into which a complete cycle of day and night can be divided. Six characters out of the possible twelve cyclical characters of shi 時 ‘double hours’ are present on the sphere in the form of gilded pins. Inside the sphere The surface of the sphere has been cut with decorative openwork to observe the internal features. The gilded copper box (fig. 4) visible on the inside represents the earth and remains fixed during the rotation of the sphere. It is square in horizontal section of 17.3x17.3 cm with a depth of 5.8 cm. The upper surface of the box has a map cast onto it showing Asia, Europe and Africa and represents the horizon of the observer. The names of the countries marked were taken from versions of western cartography created in East Asia by the Jesuits from the mid 16th century. They read as follows:
日本 Riben (Japan), 大明 Da Ming (China), 狗国 Gouguo (Eastern Siberia), 達旦 Dada (Tartary), 亞細亞 Yaxia (Asia), 天竺 Tianzhu (India), 歐羅巴 Ouluoba (Europe) and 利未亞 Liweiya (Libya/Africa). The Chinese encyclopaedia ‘The complete illustrated cosmos’ Sancai tuhui 三才圖會 published in 1607 shows most of the names on this earth model.
The belt of slots marking the ecliptic bears two sets of annotations on the inside (fig. 5). The principal annotations are the names of the twenty-eight xiu 宿 ‘lodges’ into which the circuit of the heavens has been divided up. One slot in the belt represents in time terms one day spent in that particular lodge by the sun, or in angular terms, one du 度 of the sun’s motion from west to east. The number of du for each of the 28 lodges is listed in the Triple Concordance astronomical system San tong li 三統曆, compiled around 10 CE. Further annotations are the names of the twelve ci 次 ‘stations’ (often called Jupitor stations) and the ‘Nine Roads’ jiu dao 九道 anciently associated with the moon. These are depicted by two gilded bands each carrying the name of one colour; black hei 黑, red chi 赤, white bai 白 and blue qing 青.
Along with the ecliptic, these make up the Nine Roads representing the shifting lunar path. A system of three rings (fig. 6) is mounted on the inside just above the ecliptic. Two of these rings carry small spheres representing the sun and moon. The gilded sun (fig. 7) is roughly level with the ecliptic belt of slots and the ring upon which it sits can be rotated and positioned to correspond with the season. The model of the moon (fig. 8) has one blackened hemisphere and is fixed onto a small, toothed wheel. This turns about an axle fixed onto the moon ring. On the rotation of the cog wheel, the moon simulates the phases of the moon as it would appear an observer on the inside. The sphere’s rotation was powered by a clock drive controlled by a simple ‘verge and foliate’ escapement (fig. 9). The movement is mounted externally as part of the axis support frame, joining the hexagonal base plinth. The sphere would have been displayed on a stand to allow the weights to hang from the drum wheel with a sufficient drop.
Piguet Auction House would like to thank Professor Christopher Cullen for his extensive research, culminating in his comprehensive report “The Geneva sphere: Its nature, purpose and origin”. His full 69 page report (from which the above information is extracted) together with the 39 pages of metallurgical analysis are available for consultation at the sale viewing only.