Tag Archives: Charles Gounod

The Nawāb’s musical bed

In 1882 Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi IV, Nawāb of Bahawalpur, anonymously commissioned a bed in rosewood covered with about a third of a ton of chased and engraved sterling silver from La Maison Christofle in Paris. The bedposts were four life-size automatons, nude (though bewigged) female figures representing European types, powered by four crank-wound spring mechanisms in their pedestals.

Wires ran from these springs to a music box under the bed. Downward pressure on the center of the mattress activated the music box and caused the bedpost-women to begin shifting their eyes and fanning and whisking in time to the music (an unidentified excerpt from Gounod’s Faust). The performance lasted 30 minutes. A watercolor and several photos taken in 1882 for the Christofle firm are the only evidence of the bed, whose present whereabouts are unknown.

This according to “Asleep with painted ladies” by Carl A. Skoggard (Nest X [2000] pp. 100–105). Below, Renée Fleming sings “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux” (Jewel song), an aptly themed candidate for the Faust excerpt in question.

Related article: The Sultan’s pipe organ

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