- Museum number
- Object: Orpheus Clock
Table clock with alarum attachment; verge escapement with 'dumb-bell' balance; striking-train for hours 1-12 or 1-6 as selected; dial has four chapter-rings to indicate the hours by the various contemporary methods in use; steel movement has elaborately engraved brass overlay to back plate; alarum mechanism requires winding once a week, and shuts itself off automatically after a set period.
The square case is elaborately decorated around the sides with scenes depicting 'Orpheus charming the Animals'
Fusee 8.2 turns
Great Wheel 66
2nd wheel 65 pinion 18
3rd wheel 65 pinion 10
4th wheel 60 pinion 5
Escape wheel 27 pinion 5
Dial wheel 48
Fusee has 8.2 turns. Great wheel rotates once in 24 hours, therefore duration = 8.2 days.
- Production date
Height: 291 millimetres
Length: 198 millimetres
Width: 170 millimetres
- Curator's comments
The following text is the entry for this object from the unpublished catalogue of pre-pendulum clocks by John Leopold, former Assistant Keeper of Horology at the Museum. This information is unedited and should be used accordingly.
SQUARE TABLE CLOCK WITH ALARM-ATTACHMENT.
Cat.Debruge Duménil (1847) 726 no.1447 (the clock already had the lion-feet).
Smyth (1851) 13 (the clock already belonged to Morgan).
Postcards (1925) no.8.
Bassermann-Jordan/von Bertele (1964) 68.
Coole/Neumann (1972) passim, part.27.
Maurice (1976) fig.525.
Britten 3 2 (1977) 87.
Smith (1979) 100.
Tait (1983) 37-8 (shown without feet or finial).
Exh.cat Avignon 1998 no.36.
Engraved on the rim of the outside of the base: "LEROY A PARIS" (engraved through the gilding). Scratched on the inside of the back plate of the movement: "Franz Xavier Herotizky Repariert & Renoviert
jm August 1834".
Made of brass, gilded on the outside only and a band at the bottom of the inside. The main part of the case consists of four cast portions of a frieze representing Orpheus charming the beasts (see Commentary). Most of the profile band at top and bottom of the frieze appears to have been cast as one with the frieze, but the narrow band at top and bottom was brazed on separately. The four sides of the case were then brazed at the corners (the brazing has split at one corner). The narrow bands at top and bottom match up but the frieze part has rough portions at the corners, and these were covered by cast corner pillars, each secured by a single screw. The corner pillars are shaped as caryatids.
The band rests on four cast lion feet; these are screwed to the band. Two lions have their backs flattened and re-worked, to clear the base plate. The bottom surface of the lions shows clear signs of wear; however, at some stage small half-balls were screwed under the feet, and the underside of each lion additionally has the remains of a steel pin, presumably the remnants of some previous addition.
The base-plate, which has a large aperture with a raised decorative border to accommodate the bell, is a 19th century addition; it is secured to the band by two pins on one side and a sprung catch on the other. The outside of the base is deeply engraved with four large decorative cartouches connected by four smaller ones; the inside has a lightly engraved ring of fruits and flowers. The raised ring around the bell appears to have been cast after an original; its cast ornament is reminiscent of the bands of some late 16th century German watches, both with tambour and rounded cases (compare e.g. Tait/Coole  no.14). The knob of or the catch is a cast lion's head. The base has two winding holes, that for winding having subsequently been marked with a X.
The present base replaces an earlier one, secured in the same way.
Dial-plate of steel, mounted on the movement by eight steel dial feet (one foot moved to clear the wheel-of-report). The dial-plate carries the circular dial and four spandrels.
The dial has a decoratively engraved centre surrounded by a ring of rosettes, followed by a scale marked four times I - VII, a scale with half-hour divisions, and a scale marked 1 - 24 with simple half-hour marks. Beyond this is a raised ring with half-hour divisions and a scale marked two times I - XII with half-hour marks, surrounded by 24 touch-pins, those at XII being more prominent than the others. Outside these touch-pins is another raised ring divided I - XII with half-hour marks, surrounded by twelve touch-pins, that at XII more prominent than the others. Inside the outer ring, at 5:30, is the hole for synchronizing the striking. The inner raised portion of the dial was cast as one piece with the centre; the outer raised ring was applied by riveting and brazing. The outer touch knobs were riveted through the entire thickness of the material.
The decorative centre of the dial (the portion within the ring of rosettes) forms a separate piece, brazed into place. The engraving of this piece is slightly rougher than that of the other, similarly engraved parts, and, unlike those, the design is symmetrical. This makes it likely that the centre is a 19th century replacement rather than a repaired original part; the method of brazing is similar to that of the raised ring of the base. The dial may originally have had lunar indications in the centre (see Commentary).
The four spandrels are riveted to the dial plate by three brass rivets each. They are cast with an ornament consisting of strap-work and tendrils with two putti and four snakes centred around a mask and a vase of flowers.
The dial has two steel hands, mounted friction-tight on each other. Both hands revolve in 24 hours and the longer hand therefore does not correspond with the outer ring of the dial. These hands are a 19th century replacement; originally there were two hands, one revolving in 12, the other in 24 hours (see Movement).
Plated movement, constructed almost entirely of steel; many surfaces polished. Two square plates separated at the corners by four plain, square pillars, screwed at either end. The plates have several holes, carefully blocked in steel; some of these are almost invisible because of subsequent polishing. Some steel parts visible on the back plate have traces of blueing: the nuts, the revolving latches and the 12-hour count-wheel.
The back plate has a gilded brass overlay, secured by the nuts of the pillars. It is engraved with a pattern of tendrils, and there are scratch marks to show the engraver where some of the furniture was going to be. The steel plate under the overlay has a line engraved along the edge (not visible when the overlay is in place). Most of the furniture of the back plate is secured to the steel movement-plate, but the regulator and its dial are screwed to the overlay only.
All the train wheels except the great wheels and the fly (and the barrel of the going train) run in massive brass bushes, which appear to be original (see Conversions). All train wheels have three crossings, except the great wheels which are solid.
Movement and dial slide into the case from the top, being secured by two revolving latches. There are two guiding ridges, and the movement rests on the top of these.
48 ║ 66 65 65 60
── ║ ── ── ── ── 27 (x 2)
24-hours 7 48 ║ 18 10 5 5
Spring barrel: brass wall, steel caps, both riveted over five studs. Outer end of spring with cross-bar, which is additionally screwed to the wall; inner end hooked into slanted slot of the arbor, and the slot blocked by a pin at either end. Spring not blued; .05 x ca.27 mm.
Brass fusee of 8.2 turns, cut for gut; split fusee, 24 ratchet teeth for winding. Reversed fusee. The top of the fusee has been repaired with tin; originally this portion probably was integral with the nose but there is now a separate steel nose, secured by two screws. Conventional stop-work. The brass portion of the fusee has been cast around a smaller steel one, also with 24 ratchet teeth.
Great wheel: built up out of 12 thickness of steel to sink the earlier steel fusee; there are three filled holes to show that there were a conventional spring and click. The present brass fusee rides on the edge of the cavity and is surrounded by a steel click and spring. The winding square has been redressed.
2nd wheel: the large pinion is secured by three rivets.
3rd wheel: the present pinion has been forced over the remains of a pinion of 5, integral with the arbor.
Escape wheel: screwed potence and counter potence. Geared hog-bristle regulator, the gilded brass scale marked 1 - 7 with dots as quarter-marks.
The wheel of report is friction-tight on its arbor (through a nut and a spring-washer); it will originally have been a sandwich with a larger wheel to drive a secondary hour hand wheel for the outer, 12-hour scale: this explains the four empty holes in the wheel.
60 60 ┌ 60 54 30
── ── │ ── ── ──
15 6 ┤ 6 6 6
10 ║ ┘
63 78 ║
3x 6-hour 12-hour
Great wheel: split arbor. Double thickness of steel to sink the winding ratchet with click and spring; 20 ratchet teeth for winding, the teeth individually marked. The winding square has been redressed. Open spring, held in position by two studs (which are screwed into the plate) and a pillar; outer end coiled around a stud, inner end hooked into the slanted slot of the barrel. Spring not blued, .4 x 28 mm. The spring has been broken and repaired by dovetailing the parts together.
2nd wheel: the large pinion riveted with three rivets over the remains of a pinion of 6 integral with the arbor.
3rd wheel: 10 lifting pins.
5th wheel: one lug near the arbor for locking. The positions of the crossings are marked by dots.
Heavy open fly; the pivots run in half-drilled holes in bushes which are adjustable in both plates (19th century conversion).
6-hour count-wheel: steel wheel riveted to a brass, decoratively engraved disc, secured by a screw at the centre. The disc is divided 3 x 1-6 hours.
12-hour count-wheel: internally geared steel ring, held in position by the aperture in the overlay and retained by the disc of the 6-hour count-wheel, by the indicator for the hours struck, and by two (later) brass lugs.
Steel detents (the locking arm repaired). The indexing arm is hinged on the arbor; it can be made to engage either count-wheel by means of a double push piece.
Unwarned striking with hammer over-lift off the lifting 3rd wheel and random locking on the 5th wheel.
The alarm-attachment consists of a cylindrical alarm with domed top, which is friction-tight on a ring with four decorative feet. The case of the attachment is made of brass except for the dome, which is of copper. All visible surfaces are gilded.
The band of the case is a cast strip, bent into shape and brazed at the join. The ornament is a combination of strap-work and fruit, repeated four times. The underside rests in the ring of the stand; the top is surrounded by a profile ring (bent into shape and brazed at the join) brazed to a flat ring which is pinned to the tops of the movement pillars. The dome, which is cast with a four-part ornament similar to that of the band, is carried by the bell stand and secured by the finial; the finial is a 19th century replacement. The profile ring that surrounds the dome is of brass; it was pinned and brazed to the dome.
The central part of the stand is the profile ring which carries the alarm. It consists of a flat ring to which a profile ring (itself bent into shape and brazed at the join) was brazed. Four decorative feet are screwed to the central ring (all screws have since been hammered to become rivets). Each foot was made out of two parts, the actual foot and the top-volute with the lug for the screw; the two parts were brazed together. The feet are cast as volutes with decorations of fruit.
The alarm sits in the ring of the stand, being retained by a brass disc which is screwed (with another brass disc as spacer) to the bottom of the movement.
Made of steel throughout, except for one brass bush (top of the contrate). Two circular plates connected by three square pillars, brazed to the bottom plate and pinned at the top. All wheels are solid. Some parts of the movement (notably the clip for the escape wheel, the contrate wheel, the locking-piece, and the disc on top of the great wheel) retain traces of high polish, which appears to be original.
The band of the alarm slides over the movement from the top and rests on three lugs that project from the bottom plate of the movement; the band is secured by the topmost profile ring, which is pinned to extensions of the movement pillars. The steel bell-stand, screwed to the top plate of the movement, secures the bell, the dome and the finial.
── ── 11 (x 2)
Open spring, retained by two pillars and three studs. Outer end hooked around a pillar; inner end hooked into a slanted slot. Spring not blued; 13 x .4 mm.
Great wheel: double thickness of steel, to sink the click and spring. Split arbor; 16 ratchet teeth for winding. Pinned under the great wheel is a disc with two slots for locking and two cams for cocking the alarm.
Contrate and escape wheels: band brazed to the disc. The escape wheel is fitted in a clip which is pinned over a pillar.
The alarm is released in the conventional way; it then re-cocks itself while the alarm rings until the great wheel has performed half a turn.
Going train: great wheel - 1 rev. in 24 hours.
duration – 8.2 days.
escapement - 8365.5 beats per hour.
Striking train: revs. of the great wheel in 24 hours,
12-hour strike - .39 rev.
6 hour strike - .21 rev.
Alarm: stops after the great wheel has made 2 rev.
All trains wind counter-clockwise.
Clock (without feet) - 165 x 165 mm.
Height (standing on lions only, without hour-hand arbor) - 87 mm.
Distance between the plates - 41 mm.
Alarm: distance between the plates - 39 mm.
Clock with alarm: height -
Several parts of the clock show signs of major conversions, most of which took place at the time of manufacture. These are the changes to great wheel and fusee
of the going train, where the existing steel fusee was enlarged in brass, and to the 2nd and 3rd wheel of the going and the 2nd wheel of the striking, where large pinions were substituted for the original, much smaller ones. All these changes appear to have occurred during the manufacture of this clock, which apparently was originally intended to have exceptionally long duration (possibly one month). It appears that the overlay was put in to mask these changes: the threaded ends of the movement pillars are only barely long enough.
The alarm attachment was not similarly converted: a 7-day duration means that 32 turns of the mainspring are being used, which is in accordance with general practice (compare clocks with fixed barrel striking).
There is no evidence that the clock was ever converted to balance spring or pendulum, but the dial lost its original centre. The refurbishment by F.X.Herotizky in 1834 probably included the new dial centre; the drive for the 12-hour hand may already have been lost, and so the present highly impractical coupled hands were devised. The construction for the fly, with adjustable pivot holes, probably also forms part of this restoration, and the present base was presumably made at the same time.
HISTORY AND PROVENANCE.
The name on the base refers to the firm Leroy of Paris, which was founded in the Rue Saint-Martin and moved to the Palais Royal in 1813. From 1839 the name became Leroy & Fils; the firm ceased to trade in 1960 (Allix  444).
The repair inscription suggests that the clock was first discovered in or shortly before 1834. The inscription is in German, but it is possible that Herotizky was a refugee in Paris, and that he did the work for Le Roy.
In 1847 the clock was in the collection Debruge Duménil in Paris, and the height of the clock itself, which is given as 9 cm, suggests that the lions already had the half-balls (height of the band with feet 87 mm; with the half-balls 91 mm). However, the total height given in the catalogue (26 cm) makes clear that the attachment had not yet acquired the finial (height of the finial: 41 mm). The collection Debruge Duménil was dispersed in Paris in .
Subsequently the clock passed to Octavius Morgan, who owned it in 1851. From the preceding it is clear that he added the finial.
Octavius Morgan bequest, 1888; reg.1888,12-1,102.
The representation of the cast frieze shows this clock to be one of the so-called Orpheus clocks, a group first identified by P.G.Coole and E.Neumann and published by them in The Orpheus Clocks (1972). They traced nine clocks with cases embodying this frieze, seven of them round and two square; since then five more clocks (either complete or as fragments) have been discovered 1), which makes this by far the most often used frieze for renaissance clock cases. The frieze consists of two plaquettes: the Orpheus plaquette and the animal plaquette. Their design, as Neumann has shown, derives from engravings by Virgil Solis (O'Dell-Franke  d65 and d67; the plaquettes not in Weber ). In the square clocks each plaquette accounts for two sides of the case.
Nearly all the Orpheus clocks appear to date from about 1560-70, but the British Museum clock is different. It belongs to an interesting group of clocks of ca.1590 having cases with cast friezes of considerably earlier design. The case of the museum's clock is, in fact, different from the other Orpheus clocks. In all the other clocks that could be examined the profile bands above and below the frieze were cast separately and then riveted to the frieze; in the museum's clock the profile bands and the frieze form a single casting. This, together with the rough quality of the casting, suggests that the museum's case was cast after an earlier case, and not from the original (wooden) models as were the others.
Particularly individual in the museum's clock is the construction at the corners of the case, where separate corner-pillars cover the joints of the sides; these pillars fit tightly between the square bands at top and bottom, and are secured by a single screw. This unusual construction (when corner pillars are used on a clock they usually extend the full height of the case) occurs in two other clocks, both dating from about 1590: a clock with a case cast after plaquettes by Peter Flötner, who died 1546 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) 2) and a case cast after plaquettes by Leonard Danner dating from before(?) 1550 (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan) 3). The corner pillars of the museum's clock are not known from any other clock, and neither are the lion-feet; these appear to be original and are necessary to allow space for the bell.
The dial of the Milan clock is very similar to that of a larger clock by Johann Reinhold of Augsburg, dated 1581 (Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart) 4) and is therefore ascribed to that maker. The movement of the Reinhold clock of 1581 shows clear similarities to that of the British Museum Orpheus clock, particularly in the shape and proportions of the pillars and in the design of the finials to the furniture of the back plate. And there are other connections with the work of Reinhold: the elaborately ornamented feet of the alarm attachment are strongly reminiscent of the feet of the mechanical globes by Reinhold and his partner Georg Roll, dated between 1584 and 1589 (see below). Flat cast spandrels are unusual at this period; this particular pattern is not known from any other clock, but the large Reinhold clock in Stuttgart and the Milan clock both have comparable spandrels which embody a pomegranate. In view of all this it is suggested that the museum's Orpheus clock, as well as the Metropolitan Museum's anonymous clock, are also the work of the Rol/Reinhold workshop.
For these makers see Bobinger (1969). Johann Reinhold was born ca.1550 in Liegnitz (Silesia), but settled in Augsburg, where he applied for admittance in the blacksmiths guild in 1577. He was refused, which appears to have started a controversy which lasted several years; Reinhold was finally admitted in 1584 but there is reason to believe that he had worked independently before that. He died in 1596. - During most of his career Reinhold seems to have cooperated closely with Georg Roll. Roll, born ca.1546, also came from Liegnitz and may therefore have known Reinhold from very early on. Roll first settled in Friedberg, where he opened a workshop in 1565 or 1566; in 1578 he moved to Augsburg. He was often in trouble with the guild masters, because he employed others to work for him: Roll appears to have been a businessman rather than a clockmaker. Maurice has shown that in 1584 he supplied an Ostrich-automaton to Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol 5), but his name is more famously connected with the series of mechanical celestial globes which he produced jointly with Johann Reinhold, and which date from the years 1584-1589 6). Roll died in 1592.
As to the other names connected with this clock: no Franz Xavier Herotizky is recorded, but a G.Herotitzky, who may have been a relative, is mentioned in Hamburg in 1890 (Abeler  274). For Le Roy see p. .
Technically the clock shows many unusual features, first and foremost the long duration. Several clocks that go two days at a winding are known (a.o. the mechanical celestial globes by Christian Heiden and by Jost Bürgi 7) but only a single earlier 8-day clock is known to exist. This is an unsigned cylindrical horizontal clock engaved with the arms of the of the Count Palatine Ottheinrich of Heidelberg 8).
The Ottheinrich clock has an alarm which has to be wound each time it is to be used; the alarum of the BM-clock, which stops and re-sets itself, appears to be a unique survival.
1) The full list, as known at present, is as follows. The clocks marked * are those of the original publication. The list briefly gives the history of each clock, sometimes including information not known to Coole and Neumann.
* London, British Museum.
* Formerly coll.Charles Georgi, Paris, and exhibited Paris 1900. Now in a private collection.
Sotheby's Geneva, 11 November 1980, lot 110 (two fragments of a case).
* Fremersdorf I, now Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart (previously Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague; collection E.Gutmann, Berlin).
* Fremersdorf II, now Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart (previously collection J.Hunt, auction cat. Sotheby's London, 10 May 1962, lot 178; collection mrs.Ida Netter, auction cat. Christie's London, 20 June 1939, lot 145).
* Munich, Bayerisches Landesmuseum (previously collections Bassermann-Jordan and Spitzer.)
* Chicago, Adler Planetarium (previously collection Anton Mensing, Amsterdam).
* Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, Wernher collection. Sold Christie's, London, 5 July 2000 lot 56.
* Milwaukee, coll.Richard B.Flagg: case with later movement; the case utilizes the naimal-plaquette twice.
* Vienna: case only. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; sold Christie's, London, 8 July 1999 lot 183.
Private coll. (auction cat.Christie Geneva, 12 November 1986, lot 335; Maurice ).
Private coll.: case only, serving as the base for an automaton clock in the shape of a Turk; separated in 1977 (Sotheby Parke Bernet, Zurich, 6 May 1977, lot 111; previously collection Mrs.Ida Netter, auction cat.Christie's London, 20 June 1939, lot 161).
Formerly S.J.Whawell collection: case only, diam.194 mm, smaller than the previous ones which all have a diam. of ca.23 cm (auction cat. Sotheby's London, 6 May 1927, lot 440A).
Chicago, Art Institute: band, bezzel of the base and outer portion of the dial, completed with a French mid-19th cent. movement. The case, which utilizes only about half of the animal-plaquette, has a diam. of only 15 cm.
2) Peter Flötner, died Nurember 1546. Two plaquettes, each repeated, representing Noah's Daughters and Abraham and the Three Men (Weber  no.33 1-2). For this clock see Maurice (1976) fig.582.
3) Leonard Danner of Nuremberg, 1507-85. Four plaquettes representing the Prodigal Son (Weber  no.98). For this clock (in which the movement has been replaced) and its ascription to Reinhold see Leopold (1974) 95-96; Brusa (1974) 26-27.
4) For this large clock (which was re-constructed in 1592) and its parallel, dated 1586 and signed Caspar Buschmann but thought to be also by Reinhold (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich), see Leopold (1974); Maurice (1976) figs.578 and 579. The construction of the cases of these two clocks show similarities to the three clocks under discussion.
5) Maurice (1976) fig.294. Maurice suggests that this automaton, which is not recorded in Schloss Ambras, is identical with the one now in the Würtembergisches Landesmuseum (ex collection Fremersdorf).
6) These globes are: dated 1584 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); dated 1584 (Victoria & Albert Museum, London); date removed but probably 1584 (The State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg); dated 1586 (Mathematisch-physikalischer Salon, Dresden); 1588 (CNAM, Paris); dated 1589 (Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples); a base with the small terrestrial globe only (private coll.); a base-plate only (Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan). There are many illustrations of these globes; several in Bertele (1961) figs.35-43, and in Maurice (1976) figs.257-60. Like the suqare clocks under discussion the globes have movements constructed almost entirely of steel.
7) For these globes see Leopold (1986).
8) The arms are those of Count Palatine Ottheinrich of Heidelberg before he became Elector (1502-1559, Elector in 1556). Coole/Neumann (1972) 49, 50, 68; Maurice (1976) fig.493; Maurice/Mayr (1980) 202 (Maurice dates the clock ca. or before 1540) and ascribes it tentatively to Jörg Leberer, who was appointed court clockmaker in Heidelberg from 1539; in 1550 Leberer settled in Regensburg.
9. Depth of the barrel: 33 mm (lots of room for the spring!). The screw in the wall of the barrel has old thread and the threaded hole in the crossbar does not penetrate the first coil of the spring: original construction. - The inner end of the striking is not clear; we had this off the plate for a short while and it appears to be riveted additionally to the hooking; it certainly won't slide off the arbor.
The method of construction of the band of the alarm attachment is surprising: it is usually assumed that cast elements can't be bent into a curved shape. This band is clearly brazed in one place only, and was therefore bent (the same occurs, incidentally, in cast watchbands of the period). Diameter of the band 69 mm; max. thickness 2 mm.
The watch Morgan 163 also has Le Roy A Paris engraved on it; also the clock by Jurgen Eckler 1584 (Rockford, 603/20). Compare also 1888,12-1,104. The monstrance clock by Jer.Metzger has the front plate of the movement similarly inscribed "Nis Huyg".
BIBLIOGRAPHY (Pauline Wholey – 2019)
Debruge Duménil (1847) J.Labarte, Description des Objets d'Art qui composent la collection Debruge Dumenil, précédée d'une introduction historique (Paris 1847).
Postcards (1925) - British Museum, Set 77, Clocks from the 16th to the 18th Century ... 15 Pictorial Postcards (London? ca.1925). Envelope containing 6 pages of text and 15 postcards. There exist two issues; in the earlier one the postcards are slightly larger and they have no printed material on the back. NB: "No photographs seem to be available" (HJ [April 1923] 158).
Bassermann Jordan/Bertele (1964) E.von Bassermann Jordan/H.von Bertele, The Book of old clocks and watches (transl.by H.A.Lloyd, London 1964).
Coole/Neumann (1972) P.G.Coole & E.Neumann, The Orpheus Clocks (London 1972).
Maurice (1976) K.Maurice, Die deutsche Räderuhr, 2 vols. (Munich 1976). Page numbers refer to vol.1, fig. numbers to vol.2.
Britten 3 2 (1977) The Antique Collector's Club edition of Old Clocks and Watches & their Makers (revised ed. of Britten 3, Woodbridge 1977).
Smith (1979) A.Smith ed., The Country Life International Dictionary of Clocks (London etc. 1979).
Tait (1983) H.Tait, Clocks and Watches (London 1983).
Avignon 1998 - Tresors d'Horlogerie, le Temps et sa mesure du Moyen Age à la Renaissance, Avignon, Palais des Papes, May-September 1998.
Catherine Cadinal & Dominique Vingtain, TRESORS D'HORLOGERIE, exhibition catalogue, 1998, cat.no.36
Text from 'Clocks', by David Thompson, London, 2004, p. 40.
Table clock 'Orpheus'
Augsburg?, c. 1580
Height 22 cm, width 8 cm, depth 8 cm
Dating from about 1575, this clock has its origins in south Germany, probably Augsburg itself. Although unsigned, it is one of a series of eleven superb table clocks known as the 'Orpheus' clocks, so called because the legend of Orpheus was the subject chosen for the decoration of the case bands. This square-cased example has cast and chased decoration of the highest quality, taken from designs by Virgil Solis and thought to be the work of Hans Kels, showing Orpheus charming the animals in the forest.
The fact that the cast panels appear on ten different clocks, but are nevertheless clearly from the same mould, suggests that clockmakers could buy strips of the casting and use it to form cases of either round or square shape and perhaps produce clocks in some form of batch production.
The clock mechanism is made entirely from iron and has gear trains for time indication and hour-striking, but has the added sophistication that the clock can be made to strike either in the twelve-hour system (1-12 twice per day) or the six-hour (1-6 four times per day). To enhance the appearance of the back plate of the clock when the case is opened for winding, there is a false plate of gilt-brass profusely engraved with foliate scrolls. As well as this, all the iron parts including the plates, wheels, arbors and pillars of the movement are burnished, a finish which may well be original and intended to enhance the appearance of the movement but also perhaps to provide a more rust-resistant surface.
Above the dial is a detachable alarm mechanism released by the hour hand as it turns. In Germanic spring-driven table clocks of the sixteenth century it is not uncommon to find a detachable alarm mechanism which could be attached to the top of the clock when an alarm function was needed. The mechanism is simply clipped on to the top of the clock in a position where the release lever is directly over the desired alarm time. The alarm is then set off when the hour hand arrives at that position and trips the lever. This simple device consists of a mainspring and short train of wheels, which drive a crown wheel and verge escapement. A hammer is mounted on the end of the verge to sound the alarm on the bell at the top. This simple mechanism allowed the clock to perform as a horizontal table clock in normal use but also as an alarm clock when required.
Octavius Morgan Bequest
- On display (G38/dc4)
- Exhibition history
2015 – 2016 4 Dec – 29 May, National Museum of Singapore, ‘Treasures of the World’s Cultures’
2012-2013 Nov-Mar, Bonn, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2012 Mar-Jul, Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Treasures of the World’s Cultures
2009 11 Dec-2010 10 May, Madrid, Canal de Isabel II, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
1998 29 May-27 Sep, France, Avignon, Palais de Papes, Tresors d’Horologerie
- Latest: 3 (Aug 2015)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number