In 2011 Vacheron Constantin held its first major exhibition outside of Geneva at the National Museum of Singapore The Treasures of Vacheron Constantin. This exhibition featured over 180 pieces representing Vacheron Constantin’s production from 1755 to 2005. A special catalogue was published for the occasion and the watch gracing the cover was not a grand complication or a unique minute repeater but a tiempiece the general public and many at Vacheron Constantin (including yours truly) were unaware of: Les Bergers d’Arcadie (The Shepards of Arcadia).
This 50mm marvel of finesse was made in 1923 for brothers Robert and George Grandjean who were members of the Vacheron Constantin board at the time.
This timepiece which is a tribute to everything Vacheron constantin holds dear today in the Metires d’Art, has a very original enamel dial with blue printing, the back of the case features Nicolas Poussin’s Les Bergers d’Arcadie painted in miniature enamel by leading early 20th century Geneva enamel artist Marie Goll.
The double back cover features an engraving inspired by Leopold Robert’s painting l’Arrivée des Moissonneurs dans le Marais Pontins (1831) (Arrival of the Harversters at the Pontina swamps).
Under the pastoral scene is an engraving of notes from Beethoven’s Symphonie pastorale.
But that’s not it! The movement is engraved using the line engraving technique. The bottom plate also has an engraving of Raphael’s famous two angels as found in his Sistine Madonna (1513-1514). This painting was the last of the painter's Madonnas and the last painting he completed with his own hands.
What is really interesting is the choice of the painting. Poussin painted two versions of the Shepherds of Arcadia, one in 1629 and a second in 1638. It is the later which is depicted on the back cover.
The two paintings portray Arcadian shepherds pointing towards a the inscription Et in Arcadia Ego engraved on a tomb.
The first painting from 1629 depicts 3 men and a woman. Two men and the woman are occupied by the discovery of the tomb which seems to have an unsetteling effect on them. The third man sitting further from the others seems unaffected. Poussin’s second version of the painting features the same shepherds but this time in a more serene atmosphere.
It is greatly believed that Nicolas Poussin placed hidden messages in these two paintings the principle of which is the Latin phrase Et in Arcadia ego.
The literal word-for-word translation of the phrase is "Even in Arcadia I [am there]," "I" being death, and "Arcadia" being understood as a utopian land. Certain have believed that this phrase not being a proper Latin sentence was an anagram of I! Tego arcana dei, which translates to "Begone! I keep God's secrets", suggesting that the tomb contains the remains of Jesus or another important Biblical figure. They claimed that Poussin was privy to this secret and that he depicted an actual location.
The question remains? Did the Grandjean brothers subscribe to this theory and consequently chose the subject ? is the mix of different subjects (The shephers, the harvesters and angels as well as selected notes from the Symphonie Pastoral) just a question of a love of the brothers for the arts or does it hide a deeper meaning?
Something which could be worth looking into.
A closer look at the dial is heart throbing and emotionally evocative experience. The grain of the enamel the finess of each line, the color of each pigment is mind blowing and I am left speachless before such talent so I'll let the photos do the talking.