The Meticulously Carved Astronomical Clock

To celebrate The International Romani Day we asked three Roma children to choose objects from the collection of the museum and tell us how they can relate to these items.

By Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

#International Romani Day #artworks in children’s stories

Meet Adam and the astronomical clock

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Why did I choose this particular item?

Adam: This is a very beautiful clock, with a beautiful sculptural decoration and carvings. The leaf and flower motifs and the letters are beautiful. I love meticulously carved objects like this. It took a lot of time, patience and skill to make this object. 

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

It’s made of metal—maybe brass—and they must have kept valuable things in it. It’s like an old cupboard, a safe. I’m more ready to believe this than that it was used only as a clock, a simple object.

If I had a case like that at home, I would keep all my cherished, precious things in it. Say, my phone.

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Is it decorated with the signs of the zodiac and Latin inscriptions?

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

But the top resembles a pagoda.

This part [the frieze—Ed.] looks like a fancy fence or a balcony,...

... and it reminds me of the story of the dragons guarding the princess in the tower of the castle.

It’s like... like an empress, like a Chinese empress in a pagoda.

Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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If we were to talk about this work of art—say, with my twin brother— we would try to find out the meaning of the creatures that decorate the clock. It is very interesting how these horses, dragons, eagles and figures are fashioned. The figure in the centre looks like the Versace logo. 

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

My brother and I also carve, now we are making wooden masks for adults and human figures. I would like to carve this well one day, and I can imagine getting somewhere in life with creative work, perhaps carving.

Why is this piece an important part of the collection?

In the second part of the story, the head of the collection that contains the selected artwork talks about it, describes its context, contemporary Hungarian or European cultural history.

Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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These so-called astronomical clocks were the smart devices or ‘computers’ of the 16th and 17th centuries, which only aristocrats and monarchs could afford to own. Even they treasured them, hiding them in ornate cases that could stand as works of art in their own right - Ildikó Pandur, PhD. says.

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

They were ‘astronomical,’ because in addition to showing the time of the day, they also functioned as complex calendars. The days of the week were linked to the planets, whose positions could be read on some of the dials, among other things.

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Astrology, the ancient belief that the planets influenced the destiny and life of humans, was also popular during this period. 

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

The twelve constellations known since antiquity, and associated mainly with animals, and they often appeared in the ornamentation and on the dials of these clocks. It was believed that the future could be predicted by observing the constant motion of the planets.

Astronomical clock, From the collection of: Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest
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This clock at the Museum of Applied Arts was once owned by the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II (who was also King of Hungary as Rudolf I), whose vast and special treasury was famed far and wide. Rudolf II took a special interest in astrology and alchemy. He consulted his astronomers and astrologers before making important decisions, and never married, in response to the astrologers’ warning that marriage would bring him bad luck. 

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

His court in Prague Castle was home to many astronomers, scientists and artists. In the Prague scene of Imre Madách’s The Tragedy of Man, Rudolf II talks to Johannes Kepler, who did in fact live in the emperor’s court.

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

One of the many functions of the clock is hidden inside: the base has a sundial on it, to access which the heavy case must be removed. 

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

In the 16th century, sundials were more accurate than mechanical clockworks, so the astronomical clock could be set by referencing the sundial built into it.

Astronomical table clock, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Astronomical table clock, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Astronomical watch, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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The Astronomical Clock, Hampton Court Palace, Richard Lea-Hair, 2015, From the collection of: Historic Royal Palaces
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Astronomical table clock by Henry Jenkins, 1778/1778, From the collection of: British Museum
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Astronomical clock, From the collection of: National Museum of Science and Technology
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The Museum of Applied Arts’ 2024 project was embraced by Tarnabod és mi (TaMi), a charity that, for over a decade, has been in contact with the Roma living in the village of Tarnabod. They organise camps, fun days, cook-outs and mentoring programmes for children with outstanding talents. With the approval of their parents, we share the first names of the children interviewed.

Astronomical clockMuseum of Applied Arts, Budapest

Keep exploring!

Continue your journey through the Museum of Applied Arts collection and read the story about a multifunctional piece: A Bed, a Sofa and a Storage Space!

Credits: Story

Interview with Adam 

by Ildikó Pandur, PhD., Katalin Szemere, Ildikó Pandur, PhD. and Sarolta Sztankovics (text)
Sarolta Sztankovics (ed.)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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