This famous android was a collaborative effort by two Germans. Clockmaker Peter Kintzing created the mechanism and joiner David Roentgen crafted the cabinet; the dress dates from the 19th century. Automatons were in circulation and aroused much curiosity. Roentgen probably sent the tympanum to the French court and Marie-Antoinette bought it in 1784. The queen, aware of its perfection and scientific interest, had it deposited in the Academy of Sciences cabinet in 1785. The tympanum is a musical instrument that plays eight tunes when the female android strikes the 46 strings with two little hammers. Tradition has it that she is a depiction of Marie-Antoinette.
The mechanism, hidden beneath the dress inside the stool on which the player sits, consists of a spring motor and a brass cylinder with 16 cams that, driven by levers, activate the arms’ joints and the small spikes dictating the hammers’ movement.
The tympanum is a spectacular illustration of the 18th-century interest and research in automatism. The underlying goal was to create an artificial man by building moving mechanical parts mimicking human anatomy. Androids attest to the fascination with these animated creatures and the ingenuity of brilliant mechanics in the art of reproducing vital functions. Jacques de Vaucanson, whom Louis XVI appointed inspector of factories, specialised in the mechanical reproduction of human and animal functions and movements.
Peter Kintzing (1745-1816) and David Roentgen (1743-1807)