Falling Back

Today on Museum Bites we’re getting ready to fall back in time. The season is changing and for many of us, our clocks are too. In celebration of an additional hour, we’re sampling a treasure trove of tickers. We begin in Chicago…

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
~ The Byrds (1965), lyrics by Pete Seeger

Radiant Timepiece:  The Tall-Case Clock (c1906) was designed by Austrian architect, Josef Hoffman (1870-1956) and is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Handcrafted from maple, mahogany, and ebony, the case features a sleek, tightly checked pattern that has a Rubix cube vibe. But the showstopper is the brilliant clock face and door. Made of hand-embossed gilt brass, a tree of life comprised of curly-cue branches and goofy long-tailed birds, meanders up and down the door. And if that weren’t enough, sparkling prisms wink at us from the niche running down the center of the door. This radiant beauty not only tells time, it is a stunning work of art.

In addition to architecture, Josef Hoffmann dabbled in interior design. He also co-founded the Wiener Werstätte (Vienna Workshops) in 1903, to preserve the art of handcrafted design (i.e., fashion, furniture, jewelry, and textiles). The Wiener Werstätte’s cutting-edge style influenced the Bauhaus as well as architect and designer, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). If you’d like to view more of Josef Hoffman’s brilliant work, click on this Josef Hoffman link, courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.

Master Timepiece:  Our next timepiece is the Monstrance Table Clock (1616) by Nikolaus Rugendas the Elder (1585-1658). On display at the Milwaukee Art Museum, this gorgeous clock is made of gilt brass, gilt copper, iron, and bell metal. The design is based on a monstrance, an ornate device used by the Catholic Church to display a consecrated host. Not only does this clever contraption tell time, it also includes an alarm, astrolabe, and saint’s wheel, which features the name of the saint of the day for an entire year. With all these delightful details, the Monstrance Table Clock no doubt has a chime that is just as charming.

Rugendas crafted this master clock to prove he had the chops to graduate from apprentice to professional clockmaker. Think of it as the 17th century’s version of a senior thesis or capstone project. Rugendas graduated with flying colors and went on to open his own workshop. He also created a family dynasty of clockmakers.

Imperial Timepiece:  Our final clock is on display in the Forbidden City’s Hall of Clocks and Watches. Made of gold and black lacquer, the Building Clock is as advertised, a clock in the shape of a miniature building with faux bricks, shuttered windows, fenced-in porches, and a wee clock nestled behind the front door. This enchanting timepiece is a quaint addition to the Forbidden City’s treasure trove.

The Forbidden City’s timepiece collection began back in 1601 when Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) gifted Emperor Wanli (1563-1620) with two chiming, mechanical clocks. The emperor was fascinated and henceforth he and subsequent emperors began collecting these delightful gadgets. The Bureau of Chiming Clocks was established for the sole purpose of repair and preservation of the imperial collection which includes over 1,500 clocks. If you’d like to learn more about the Forbidden City’s treasures and timepieces, click on this Museum Bites: Treasure Palace link to view more.

That concludes our timepiece tour. If you’re falling back in time this weekend, I hope you spend your extra hour doing something festive and fun. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Bites. Ciao!

Clocks by Johanna Schlosser, Pixabay-100px Cover photo by Johanna Schlosser, courtesy of Pixabay.


Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago: Tall-Case Clock

Britannica: Gustav Klimt

Britannica: Josef Hoffmann

Britannica: Wiener Werkstatte

Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie

Google Arts & Culture: Josef Hoffmann

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum: Monstrance Table Clock

Museum Bites: Treasure Palace

Palace Museum


TheArtStory: Wiener Werkstatte

Wikimedia Commons

YouTube: TimeLine: A Brief Introduction to the History of Timekeeping Devices by SpotImageryLtd


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