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Table Clock

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    1600-1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved and gilt brass

  • Credit Line:

    Given by W.E.Miller FSA

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 6, The Lisa and Bernard Selz Gallery, case CA13

This table clock with an alarum mechanism is formed as a drum providing stability for the movement it contains.The centre of the dial is flat but decorated with the sun or wind motif, symbolic of the ancient cult of the sun as source of life, that was revived in the Renaissance through the writings of Marcellus Ficino in the 15th century and Robert Fludd in the 17th century. Drum-shaped table clocks also served as time-keepers whilst travelling. Such clocks were made in Southern Germany, in Augsburg and Nuremberg, and exported accross Europe. They were cherished possessions and often shown in portraits of European kings and princes. The portrait of the French king Henri II by Primaticcio show a similar table clock on the table beside the sitter.

Physical description

Cylindrical case engraved with a male and a female demi-figure terminating in foliated scrolls; above this is a band of openwork foliated scrolls enclosing the bell. Removable base with a moulded rim and engraved with a cartouche with a wreath. The outer dial is numbered with Roman numerals 1-XII and with half hour marks as an inner flange with arabic numerals 13-24. The centre of the dial is engraved with a wind rose; the hour indicator- an iron pointer- is mounted on a central silver alarm disc numbered 1-11 over which a small hand revolves to set the alarum. There is a short central alarm-setting hand.The gut fusee may be inspected through a small door in the side of the case.

The movement frame consists of three turned baluster pillars and three circular plates. The movement wheels are of iron except for the contrate wheel. The spring barrels are brass. The going train has a long brass fusee of 22 turns and cord; verge escapement, brass balance wheel (without spring) and engraved single-foot cock. The alarm train with going barrel. The alarm bell is mounted between the top and dial plates.

Place of Origin

Germany (made)


1600-1700 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved and gilt brass

Marks and inscriptions

The dial is engraved with a wind rose - this dates back to the Temple of the Winds in Athens, although to the modern eye this appears to be in the form of a sun. Marsilio Ficino's translation of the Corpus Hermeticum revived a cult of the sun based on ancient Egyptian mysteries. In Robert Fludd's Philosophia Sacra, published in Frankfurt in 1626, the Creation of the World is symbolized by the depiction of God placing his tabernacle in the Sun, thus illuminating and breathing life into the Cosmos. The revival of these mystical views led to the choice of the sun motif as decoration for compasses and watch dials.


Height: 3 in, Diameter: 4.5 in, Diameter: 6.5 cm, Height: 6.1 cm

Object history note

This alarum table clock was given to the V&A by W.E.Miller FSA

Descriptive line

A drum-shaped gilt-brass table alarm clock, with pierced upper section and dial on upper surface, German, 17th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

See typescript catalogue entry by Dr Ward in Metalwork Section Library.

Production Note

Nuremberg and Augsburg, renowned for their metalworking industries, became centres for clock and watchmaking in the 17th century. By 1620 there were forty master clockmakers in Augsburg and their reputation was acknowledged accross Europe, with time-pieces exported to distant foreign markets. The Italian Garzoni wrote ' a great number of German craftsmen excel in the art of horology and all the best and most precise timekeepers actually come from Germany'.Garzoni, T , La Piazza Universale di tutte le professioni del mondo, Venice, 1595

'Tuching manuall arts, the Dutch are a people more industrious then the Garmans and excell them in all arts and trades...howsoever I must confesse that the Germans of Nuremberg in those parts are esteemed the best workman for clockes and some like thinges'

Fynes Moryson, Itinerary, ed. C.Hughes, London, 1903

Both quoted in Carlo M.Cipolla, Clocks and Culture, 1300-1700, 1967, p.62.






Clocks & Watches; Metalwork; Scientific instruments

Production Type



Metalwork Collection

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