Table Night Clock, made by Pietro Tommasi Campani

Rome, Italy, AD 1683

'Time Flies Irretrievably'

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the night clock enjoyed particular popularity in Italy. It became a common means of telling the time in the dark. However, after 1676 the quarter-repeating table clock became more widely available and the popularity of the night clock waned.

Very little is known about the maker of this clock, Pietro Tommasi Campani, except that he was a member of a well-known family of clockmakers in Rome. He is known to have been working in that city about 1656-1694. This particular clock is signed on the movement 'Petrus Thomas Campanus Inventor Rome 1683'. It is a spring-driven eight-day clock and has an ebony veneered case elaborately decorated with gilt-brass mounts and inset with polished slabs of semiprecious stones. The columns are painted to resemble marble. The upper part of the dial plate is pierced to show the time but the lower part is painted with a scene alluding to 'the four ages of man' and the four times of day. The dial is also inscribed with the motto 'VOLAT IRREPARABILE TEMPUS' ('Time Flies Irretrievably').

Night clocks usually have a semi-circular aperture in the dial, through which a revolving disc can be seen. The disc has two holes that reveal the hours. The hour numerals are pierced into two discs or carried on chains. The quarter hours are shown by pierced Roman numerals I-III, around the outside of the aperture and the minutes are shown as serrations around the inside of the aperture. At night the dial was illuminated by lighting an oil lamp inside the case, so that the light shone through the apertures to give the time. Campani invented his 'silent-crank' escapement with short pendulum especially for night clocks so that the clock would not make the usual tick-tock sound, which might keep the owners awake.

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Table Night Clock, made by Pietro Tommasi Campani

  • Mechanism



More information


H. Tait, Clocks and watches (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)


Height: 99.060 cm

Museum number

M&ME CAI 2128



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