Carillon clock with automata, by Isaac Habrecht


British Museum

British Museum

This clock is a magnificent example of the combined skills of the clockmaker and the engraver, bringing together an expertly made clock with an engraved case of the finest quality. It is designed in imitation of the great clock in Strasbourg Cathedral. The Cathedral clock was finished in 1574 by Isaac Habrecht (1544–1620), to the design of Conrad Dasypodius, mathematician at Strasbourg University.

As well as dials to show the time, the clock strikes the hours and the quarters. The astronomical dial shows the positions of the sun and moon in the zodiac. A calendar provides the date and the Dominical Letter and Saints' Days. A revolving carousel shows the days of the week, each represented by its ruling planet personified and riding in a chariot. In addition to this, automata (figures that appear to move under their own power) operate in time to the striking and the music in an impressive blend of the religious and the secular. The music played at each hour on the carillon is a setting of the Lord's Prayer written by Martin Luther in 1545.

The clock is housed in a fine gilt metal case engraved on one side with figures of Faith, Hope and Charity, on the other with Wisdom, Fortitude and Justice, while the back of the clock shows the Three Fates, all executed in the manner of the Swiss artist Tobias Stimmer (1539-84).

The mechanism of the clock is as impressive as the exterior decoration. Four weight-driven gear trains serve to indicate the time, to strike the hours and the quarters and to operate the musical carillon. At some time during the eighteenth century, the original balance control for the verge escapement was replaced with a pendulum to modernise the clock and improve its timekeeping.

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  • Title: Carillon clock with automata, by Isaac Habrecht
  • Date Created: 1589/1589
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 140.00cm; Width: 38.50cm; Depth: 38.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: gilded; engraved
  • Subject: virtues and vices
  • Registration number: 1888,1201.100
  • Production place: Case made in Strasbourg
  • Producer: Made by Habrecht, Isaac
  • Material: brass; gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Bequeathed by Morgan, Octavius


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