The magicians and seers by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.

1/ Video extract : 56 K or 512 K (with Windows Media Player)
(Introduction of the little magician automaton by the Maillardet brothers).

2/ Video extract : 56 K or 512 K (with Windows Media Player)
(Introduction of the great magician automaton by the Maillardet brother).

These extracts are coming from the film "The Jaquet-Droz androids".
This film and many others about automatons and androids
are available in english version on our online shop.

The Maillardet brothers are known for their magicians and other seers ornating pendulums. The most famous ones are certainly the great and the little magician, which can be admired in the International Museum of Watchmaking in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The little magician, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The little magician automaton
by the Maillardet brothers
Photo : International Museum of horology
The Maillardet brothers (Jaques-Rodolphe, Henri and Jean David), who were rural, always lived in the shadow of the Jaquet-Droz. They were their apprentices, their suppliers of bird mechanisms and even their partners. They lived in the little village called Fontaines, and between 1808 and 1840, they built a whole series of magicians, driven by the glory of the illustrious makers from Neuchâtel.
The great magician, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The great magician automaton
by the Maillardet brothers
Photo : International Museum of horology
Alfred Chapuis and Fridolin Wiget describe the great magician in the following way :
Detail of the great magician, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The great magician, an automaton created by the Maillardet brothers
Photo : International Museum of horology

"The great magician by the Maillardet brothers wears the pointed hat and the sumptuous dress which illusionists and conjurers wore before Robert-Houdin. His long and curly beard makes him look majestic and his expression is solemn. On his right side, there is a table covered with a carpet, on which several objects of quite mysterious appearance are placed. He is sat on a chair placed in the back of the pendulum, at the right side of a platform. The golden pedestal (40cm high and 50cm wide) of this platform is formed by the pendulum and contains music.

Our character holds a book in his left hand and a stick in his other one. At the top of the pedestal, there is a drawer in which the cross-examination takes place thanks to one

out of the twelve plates, on which the questions are written. If you close the drawer without any question in it, the dignified seer will content himself to nod negatively. But if the question can be found in the drawer, which is then completely pushed back, the magician fidgets, gets up majestically, rolls his eyes, and then brandishes his stick towards a little oval window, situated on the right side, above his head. The two hinged sections open suddenly and the answer appears.

Having consulted the correctness of the answer, the magician makes several gestures again, and then sits down again very spontaneously. While this scene is taking place, two tulips, situated at the corners of the platform, bloom, and then close on slowly.

What is pleasant to see is the chain of all the movements and gestures which are made very naturally, without a clash. They do not seem mechanical, as it can be noticed with other automatons."

Example of questions-answers :
- What is the food of the soul ?
- What is the most useful economy ?
- What is the noblest purpose of science ?
- How must morality be considered ?
- Truth and justice.
- The economy of time.
- To reveal ignorance.
- As soul hygiene.
"The little magician stands on a platform, in front of a pediment decorated with garlands, which surround two chubby musician children. The mechanism contained in the pedestal is entirely visible through a mirror. The character's functions and movements are identical to those of the previous play. The answer is written down in the grille that we can see on the upper part. If we forget to put the answer into the drawer given to this use, the seer keeps still, but on his right side, an imp appears and, with many gesticulations, makes us understand that the oracle has nothing to answer."
The little magician, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The little magician, an automaton
created by the Maillardet brothers
Photo : International Museum of horology
"Those are two examples of the ten questions asked in French to the "little magician" and of his answers :
Q : Where does the evil thought come from ?
A : From idleness.
Q : What does the woman lose by exchanging modesty for self-assurance ?
A : Half of her charms."
The android dressed in girl, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The writer-draughtsman, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers
In a publication dated from 1812, the Encyclopaedia of Edinburgh, reveals the existence of an automaton representing a writer and draughtsman, made by the Maillardet brothers: "Maillardet made an automaton which can write and draw. The figure represents a child who is kneeling down and holding a brush in its hand.
Detail of th android mechanism - Automaton by the Maillardet brothers - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The mechanism of the writer-draughtsman, an automaton by the Maillardet brothers
When it begins to work, its brush dips into ink. A sheet ofpaper is added on a table made of bronze in order to draw. When a string is touched, the figure starts to write and when the line is ended, its hand comes to write the necessary letters again. In that way, she does four beautiful pieces written in French and English and three landscapes within one hour, or so."
Today, people can see the automaton in the Research Museum in the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. An old letter written by a former director, Mister Thomas Coulson, reveals the story of this automaton : "One day, an inhabitant of the city told us that his family owned
an automaton which could draw various figures and write verses. He was not very clear about details because the mechanism had not functioned since a few years. But several pieces of fragments permitted to realize that the automaton was valuable. Its owner thought that the mechanism was
The android nowadays - An automaton created by the Maillardet brotherThe website of automatons, automata and androids.s -
The android nowadays
Photo : Research Museum
the work of Maelzel, the metronome inventor. At last, the house which contained the automaton had been destroyed during a fire,and the work was so damaged that people could not realize anymore how great its functioning had been . The automaton was justa pile of cams and gears."

"However, the Museum committee, extremely interested by the remaining fragments of the drawings, decided to purchase the damaged mechanism to try to rebuild it.

One of the Franklin Museum's technicians undertook the rebuilding, and, after several months of hard work, reached to completely start it up.

This technician was Charles Roberts and was very proud of his success : he considered this success to be the most important in his life as a practitioner."

"Once the mechanism worked, we heard from the automaton itself that it had been created by Maillardet, and not by Maelzel. Indeed, we saw that one of the stanzas in verse had the following signature :

"written by the automaton made by Maillardet". This allowed us to identify him… We also noticed,
to our embarrassment, that we had
made him change gender, because, instead
of a little boy, he had become
a little girl."
4 drawings by the Maillardet brothers android - The website of automatons, automata and androids.
The 4 drawings and the famous page of writing
made by the Maillardet android

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