Strasburg Clock model

Richard Bartholomew Smith, Clockmaker

Powerhouse Museum

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Strasburg clock model by Richard Bartholomew Smith (1887) by Richard BartholomewPowerhouse Museum

Strasburg Clock model 

For over a century the Strasburg Clock model has been one of the most popular exhibits at Powerhouse Museum. A young Sydney clockmaker, Richard Bartholomew Smith (1862-1942), built this model of a famous clock in Strasbourg, France between 1887 and 1889. In the following year the NSW Government purchased the model for £700 and arranged to put it on display at the Technological Museum, as this Museum was then known. There it soon became the main attraction.

Strasburg Clock audio

Smith based his model on the astronomical clock in Strasbourg Cathedral. Strangely, Smith never visited Strasbourg (which in his time was called Strassburg or Strasburg) to see the clock and claimed to have based his design only on a postcard and a book.

Among a variety of fascinating dials one shows the position of the planets in relation to the Sun and another shows how the Sun, the moon and the stars appear over Sydney.

In an alcove figures representing the four ages of Man change every quarter of an hour while there is also a crowing rooster and two cherubs, one of which turns a sandglass.

The Museum’s model operates every day starting six minutes before each hour. After some appropriate Australian music and a brief commentary, the procession of the Apostles tells a story from the Christian bible.

Installation View 2015

Strasburg clock model by Richard Bartholomew Smith (1887) by Richard BartholomewPowerhouse Museum

The highlight of the clock's performance is the procession of the 12 Apostles that takes place on the hour in the top alcove of the central tower. Each hour, in the alcove immediately below, the four ages of man are enacted starting with the figure of a child and ending with that of an old man.

One dial shows the time in Sydney whilst this image shows a series of dials displaying times in major cities throughout the world.

A local woodcarver, James Cunningham, is believed to have constructed the wooden case of the clock. Paintings on the case include Urania who is the muse of astronomy, the Polish astronomer Nicholaus Copernicus and Jean Baptiste Schwilgue, the maker of the last clock in Strasbourg Cathedral. Other portraits on the clock include Premier Sir Henry Parkes and political colleagues and contemporaries, scenes of Strasbourg and early Sydney, the three fates, patrons of the arts, death and the resurrection, and a number of artists who assisted Smith with the clock's decorations.

The Strasburg Clock is perhaps the best known iconic object in the Museum's collection. It is, largely, a faithful representation of the nineteenth-century refurbished Strasbourg Clock, and its maker had a long and controversial relationship with generations of Museum directors and curators.

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