Sensing Time: The Art & Science of Clocks and Watches

Join us on Saturday 18 June in the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the V&A for ‘Sensing Time: The Art & Science of Clocks and Watches.’ This interdisciplinary study day, co-convened by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection and the Science Museum will bring together expertise from curators, conservators, and makers.

To help whet your appetite, Dr Kirstin Kennedy, Curator in the Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass Department, writes below about one particularly extraordinary clock…

When is a clock not a clock? When it is an expensive advertisement for the brilliance of Dutch craftsmen… The extraordinary, monumental, clock on display in the V&A’s Galleries of European Art 1600-1815 was designed to showcase the silversmithing and instrument-making talents of two men who worked in The Hague.

Clock, silver and silver-gilt, The Hague, ca. 1665-1670. Height 91.6 cm Museum no. 92-1870

Clock, silver and silver-gilt, The Hague, ca. 1665-1670.
Height 91.6 cm
Museum no. 92-1870

Hans Conraedt Breghtel produced a clock case so densely decorated with images of time passing that it seems more like an encyclopaedia of time than a device for marking the hours. His colleague, the instrument-maker Adriaen van den Bergh, crafted the mechanism that turned the delicate hands on the three dials in the case. Both men proudly signed their work with their names.

'Made by Breghtel at The Hague': the goldsmiths' signature on the door which opens to reveal the clock mechanism. Open the door, and you see Adrian van den Bergh's name on the mechanism case immediately inside.

‘Made by Breghtel at The Hague’: the goldsmith’s signature on the door which opens to reveal the clock mechanism. Behind the door, on the mechanism case, is the signature of Adriaen van den Bergh, the instrument maker.

Records suggest the clock was displayed in Breghtel’s workshop in the 1670s. Customers to the workshop presumably spent many minutes moving round the clock to admire its temple-like construction from every angle.

On the top of the case, victorious, stands the golden figure of Time:

time victorious

His wings symbolise the speed with which he moves, while the scythe he holds shows how in the end he harvests all human life. Beneath him, in a ring around the dome, the symbols of the 12 zodiac signs in chased silver remind us how the movement of time is reflected in the constellations. Here are Pisces, Aquarius, and Capricorn, three signs from the first quarter of the year:

zodiac 2

Their cyclical motion is echoed in the circular turning of the clock hands below, while the silver flowers that spread across the clock faces perhaps invited more thoughtful customers to meditate on the fleeting nature of the beauty and youth they symbolised:

Tulips, marigolds and carnations decorate the clock faces. Cast in silver, the passage of time cannot wither them, unlike the real flowers after which they are modelled.

Tulips, marigolds and carnations decorate the clock faces. Cast in silver, the passage of time cannot wither them, unlike the real flowers after which they are modelled.

Below one dial, two gilded winged cherubs play with an hour-glass, another object associated with Father Time and another instrument to measure the gradual and inexorable passage of time…

clock face cherubs

But wait! The march of Time also brings us ever-closer to the moment when a group of international clock experts will gather in the V&A to tell us more about the intricate, beautiful and sometimes accurate time-pieces of the past.

‘Sensing Time: The Art & Science of Clocks and Watches’ will be followed by ‘Music for Clocks’, a special concert performed by Florilegium at the Foundling Museum. Keep an eye on this blog as we will soon post links to online ticketing outlets. For now, why not have a look at the exciting draft programme, which can be found here. Please save the date, Saturday 18 June, for what promises to be a most fascinating day and entertaining evening!

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2 thoughts on “Sensing Time: The Art & Science of Clocks and Watches

acsilver:

What a fabulous example of silversmithing at its best. I adore all the detailing on the clock, I feel your description of the clock being a encyclopedia of time is very accurate.

David Bridgwater:

Excellent post – it is my belief that much silver filigree currently believed to be from India or South East Asia is European and made by itinerant German craftsmen from Nuremberg or Schwabisch Gmund – see my board – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/davidbridgwater/antique-european-filigree-objects/
I intend to write a blog on the subject in due course.

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