by Giuseppe Brusa; Printer Trento,; Print book
“La Misura del Tempo” is Italian for Timekeeping   (2012-10-17)
“La Misura del Tempo” is Italian for Timekeeping
A 2005 exhibition and a catalog by Guiseppe Brusa
Mention Italian timekeepers to the average American horological enthusiast and his mind will draw a blank. That is a pity, because the country has an incredibly rich horological history.
Italy actually played a key role in the various steps that originally brought us the mechanical timekeeper: Giovanni de Dondi, a physician from Padua starting in 1348, built an extraordinary weight driven, geared mechanism with an escapement, which was not a clock in today’s sense of the word. It was an ultra-complicated planetarium that showed the seven planets. As the sun (and the moon) then was considered a planet it was designed as a “timecalculator” rather than a timekeeper. Another keystone in the documentation of early Italian clocks is the “Almanus Manuscript”, written around 1480 in Rome, describing in detail (with teeth-counts) some 30 different mechanical clocks. Later Galileo in Florence discovered the potential of the pendulum as a time standard. For the last 750 years Italians made and appreciated timekeepers of all kinds, and the craze in collecting high-grade, contemporary, mechanical wristwatches in the 1990s nowhere was as prevalent as in Italy.
However in spite of this there never was a major, comprehensive book published in English on the subject of Italian horology. A number of specialized monographs appeared in Italian over the years on specific clocks, or types of types of clocks, but even in their native language the Italians were missing the “opus magnus” on their horological history.
In 2005 finally to some extent this deficit was remedied: Guiseppe Brusa, the “éminence grise” of Italian horological scholars and Curator of horology at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milano has created “La Misura del Tempo”, undoubtedly the most ambitious and comprehensive temporary exhibition of timekeeping history ever produced, as well as the eponymous catalog. For a period of four months the Castello del Buonconsiglio, a provincial museum in Trento, hosted a magnificent assembly of 360 extraordinary objects on loan from 30 major Italian (and five foreign) museums documenting horological history from 1450 to about 1800. This included some 30 plus watches, a similar number of historic tools, a dozen old horological books, about 35 sundials or astrolabes, as well as about 20 horological themed major paintings, but the lions share were mechanical clocks of every description.
The exhibit was clearly worth a special trip and drew enthusiastic horologists to Trento last fall. For the majority of us who could not make the trip we still can get the consolation price: The published catalog. In many ways the catalog is as big an achievement as the exhibit. The richly produced book consists of the catalog itself that has large, color photographs of every item exhibited (sometimes multiple images per object), plus short descriptions, covering some 320 pages. The object descriptions – while in Italian- can be followed relatively easily by an English speaker with the help of a dictionary.
The catalog proper is preceded by a 340 page, richly illustrated collection of articles on various aspects of timekeeping history by many of the worlds’ foremost experts in their fields (including e.g. Silvio Bedini, David Thompson, John Leopold, Luigi Pippa, Antonio Lenner). While the text of the articles may be of limited interest to those who don’t read Italian, it must be noted that the article section includes also 320 additional illustrations, many large and most of them in color. Those additional pictures alone make it worthwhile to get the book.
There finally is a major book documenting the highlights of Italian horological history. And the excuse for ignorance on that subject will no longer be valid. Guisseppe Brusa deserves the appreciation of the global horological community for the years of work that must have gone into preparing both the exhibit and the publication. “La misura del tempo” can be borrowed from the Library and Research Center in Columbia, PA or can be ordered at http://www.buonconsiglio.it/ for Euro 62 plus postage, which must be only a fraction of the cost of producing this magnificent 670 page volume (ISBN 88-90090-3-6, Guiseppe Brusa: La misura del tempo, L’antico splendore dell’orologeria italiana dal XV al XVIII secolo, Trento 2005).
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