The beauty that measures time


THE VIRGIN Mary holds the little Jesus and a wand that marks the time. The crown on her head revolves as the hours pass. But unless you knew this, you would probably have a hard time guessing the artwork was a clock.
"Renaissance clocks do not look much like clocks [as we know them], as they had only one hand. It was not until the baroque period that the minute hand was added," said Katarína Malečková, a historian from the Bojnice Museum and the curator of the exhibition The Clocks.


THE 81 displayed clocks showcase masters' skills.
photo: Courtesy of SNM

THE VIRGIN Mary holds the little Jesus and a wand that marks the time. The crown on her head revolves as the hours pass. But unless you knew this, you would probably have a hard time guessing the artwork was a clock.

"Renaissance clocks do not look much like clocks [as we know them], as they had only one hand. It was not until the baroque period that the minute hand was added," said Katarína Malečková, a historian from the Bojnice Museum and the curator of the exhibition The Clocks.

The above-mentioned table clock is the oldest work within the museum's 81-piece collection currently exhibited in Bratislava at the Slovak National Museum (SNM). Offering a walk back in time, it starts in the 17th century and continues chronologically through the baroque, classicist, biedermeier, and art nouveau periods up to the 1930s, when electric clocks were invented.


photo: Courtesy of SNM

The baroque clocks are housed in portable glass cases with handles. Figure sculptures with rich clothing and other decorations are typical of classicism. Biedermeier brings the style of framed and painted wall clocks decorated with gold, occasionally accompanied by a music box.

"[In the past], clocks were very expensive and designed only for very rich customers. If somebody ordered large, heavy cabinet clocks, it indicated significant wealth and honour," Malečková said, adding that the large clocks were often an integral part of a room's interior.

The design of the second half of the 19th century brought a retrospective of the previous periods and the subsequent art nouveau movement at the turn of the century conveys "light, airy, linear, and floral ornamentation".


photo: Courtesy of SNM

The exhibition features clocks that, when fully wound, can run for a week or a whole year and strike at the quarter, half, or whole hour. They are made of all sorts of materials - ranging from wood and stone to alabaster and porcelain - and are in various forms, such as cabinets, cases, columns, and wall hangings.

Those still working tick and strike the hours during the exhibition, and a CD player will feature the sounds of the music boxes. But the clocks' rich decorations are much louder than their sound, especially in classicism.

"This period emphasises [visual] beauty. The ornamentation is so elaborate that in some cases the sculpture overwhelms the clock's function as a time-measuring device," the curator said.

Though it is difficult to prove the origin of early mechanical clocks - as very few of them have it imprinted on them - there are clocks from France, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the US, which is represented by an oak clock.


THE CLOCK of grandfathers.
photo: Zuzana Habšudová

There are also examples of the traditional cuckoo clock from the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) region in Germany.

"In the second half of the 19th century, the region belonged among the leaders in clock production. They made 1.8 million clocks a year. France led clock production for a long time, but England and Germany contributed their technological innovations," Malečková said.

Clock production on Slovak territory is not well monitored but, according to Malečková, it could be said that almost every large city had a clock guild. "They often belonged under smiths, because it was clearly a smith's work to make a large tower clock."

The Clocks exhibition runs Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:00 until October 3 at the museum, Vajanského nábr. 2, in Bratislava. Tel: 02/5934-9111.

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