Object 22

Sundial with moving eyes
Gold-plated brass and painted wood
Black Forest, circa 1780-1820
Royal Museums of Art and History
Inv. G 1067 (Bequest Godtschalk, 1915)

 

Since prehistoric times, humans have learnt how to use the sun to geolocate themselves and measure the course of time; initially through simple empirical observation and later using astrolabes and sundials of varying degrees of sophistication.

It was therefore perfectly natural that sunlight would be featured as decoration on the first timepiece mechanisms. The sun was often used to decorate pendulums in the 17th and 18th centuries. It then appeared in the allegorical form of a human face seen from the front and ringed with beams of lights, an iconography particularly popular in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, in France.

In the following century, it could be found with the moon as decoration on the enamelled dials of complication clocks.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Black Forest specialised in the production of low-cost wall clocks featuring amusing and ingenious devices such as cuckoos, chimes and various automated figures. The casings were inspired by famous themes from popular literature or folklore, and could be in the shape of owls or nocturnal birds, characters from fairy stories, fantastic or exotic animals, etc.

This sun clock is one of these low-priced wall clocks. The repoussé brass, brush-gilded dial is in the shape of a youthful face directly inspired by the iconography of the pendulums found on exclusive clocks. The hours are indicated by silver-plated Arabic numerals painted onto the rays. The eyes are cut into the sheet metal and reveal two painted wooden eyeballs with bright blue irises. These eyeballs are directly connected to the mechanism and move from right to left as the pendulum sways. It is this kind of amusing detail that helped make Black Forest clocks a huge success across Europe, even into the early 20th century.

 

 

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