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Automaton

Moulinie Aine and Co.

Category

Musical instruments, devices and recordings

Date

circa 1820

Materials

Ormolu, ebony, ivory, steel, mother-of-pearl, wood and glass

Measurements

227 x 145 x 106 mm

Place of origin

Geneva

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Collection

Attingham Park, Shropshire (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Sultana Room, Attingham Hall, Attingham Park, Shropshire, Midlands, National Trust

NT 608416

Caption

Anthropomorphic animals can be quite mesmerizing, but what can be said about the chained monkey perched within this ormolu music box made in Geneva in the early 19th century? The music box is actually an automaton equipped with an intricate mechanism that enables the monkey to turn his head while conducting music with an ivory baton. The music that is played is an example of a traditional Swiss melody known as a ‘Ranz des Vaches’. Melodies like this were played on horns by Alpine herdsmen to coax their cattle to be milked or to move up the mountains. So evocative of Switzerland were these melodies that Swiss soldiers in French regiments were forbidden under penalty of death from singing them, lest the tunes might encourage desertion. Today, the nostalgia-inducing melody can be heard playing in the Sultana Room at Attingham Park.

Summary

Ormolu musical box automaton made by Moulinie Aine and Co. of Geneva, Switzerland, circa 1820. Chained ebony monkey seated before harp and music stand. His head turns as he conducts music with an ivory baton. Sheet music engraved 'Ranz de Vaches Air de Figaro'. Moulinie Aine and Co a Geneve (maker's name engraved on steel sheet music). Chased ormolu mounts to mother-of-pearl base. Housed in its original glass dome with oval wood base. Traditionally believed to be a gift to Sophia, wife of the 2nd Lord Berwick.

Provenance

Believed to be 2nd Lord Berwick collection (Thomas Noel Hill, 1770 -1832, 2nd Baron Berwick). Attingham collection; bequeathed to the National Trust by Edith Teresa Hulton, Lady Berwick (1890-1972).

Marks and inscriptions

Moulinie Aine and Co a Geneve (maker's name engraved on steel sheet music)

Makers and roles

Moulinie Aine and Co.

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