Lot 26
  • 26

A painted and gilt copper model of the clock tower in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italian, 18th and early 19th century

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pine, copper, brass, iron, steel, lead
  • 295cm. 9ft. 8in. high overall
16-inch painted geocentric astronomical dial with twenty-four hour chapter ring calibrated I-XII twice, the time indicated by the tail on the sun which also indicates against a zodiacal calendar, the central disc rotating in one lunar day and indicating the lunar phase with a rotating moon, the four train weight-driven movement of crucifix form, the three wheel going train with anchor escapement and seconds pendulum suspended from the frame and with cranked crutch, two pins on the great wheel tripping the two hour striking trains in short succession so that each of the automaton "Moors" fully strikes each hour on the bell, the third striking train is tripped once every twelve hours and double-strikes eleven on the smaller bell three times, the painted copper tower surmounted by two automaton "Moor" figures and two bells above a balustrade and upper section applied with a gilt Venetian lion on a blue and gilt star ground, below are figures of the Madonna with Child within a portal and flanked by gilt plaques depicting angels, all against a painted trellis and flower ground, the third tier contains the clock dial and side doors to provide access to the movement, the lower tier with an arched opening blocked by a painted panel, all on a later painted parcel gilt stand 

Catalogue Note

The clock tower or 'Torre dell'Orologio' in the Piazza San Marco, Venice is undoubtedly one of the most famous and instantly recognisable public clocks in the world. Located on the north side of St Mark's Square, the tower was constructed between 1496 and 1497. However, the complicated astronomical clock had been commissioned by the Senate in 1493 to replace a dilapidated and failing clock on the Basilica. In 1496 the decision was made to build a new tower and entrance to the old Merceria in order to house the new clock. It is recorded that the newly completed clock and tower were officially unveiled on 1st February 1499. The automaton bronze figures striking the bell on the top of the tower are thought to originally have been gilded but during the course of over five hundred years their dark patination has led to them being known as “The Moors”. They were cast in 1497 by Ambrogio della Ancore and in the same year the bell was cast by one Simeone who cast his name and the date into the bell.

The clock was a marvel of early renaissance clock design and was commissioned from Zuan Paolo Rainieri and his son Zuan Carlo, master clockmakers from Reggio Emilia, approximately 120 miles from Venice across the valley of the River Po. As well as the combined time and striking movement, it was required to operate the automaton striking “Moors”, an hourly automaton scene of the Adoration of the Magi and a comprehensive astronomical dial. The complexity of the clock was such that it required constant maintenance and the Rainieri family were contracted to live next to the tower so that they were always available. This continued until the death of Zuan Carlo Rainieri in 1531. During the course of the following two hundred years, the clock movement became increasingly unreliable until Bartolomeo Ferracina made substantial alterations during the 1750s.  It was altered and restored again during the 1850s and a more recent thorough overhaul was carried out in the 1990s.

This remarkable and extraordinary model of the tower and its clock would seem to have a similar history to the originals in that the movement appears to slightly predate the tower. The current clock movement is a reduced scale copy of the original movement as it existed in the 18th century. The maker is unknown but they clearly had an intimate knowledge of the real clock and very fine clock-making skills. The cruciform layout of the movement is complex but beautifully executed and displays the use of techniques used during the mid-18th century. It is certainly tempting to speculate that this movement may have been created at the time when Bartolomeo Ferracina was making his alterations to the full size renaissance movement.  Indeed, might it have been made in his own workshops?

The dial is painted and differs from the real dial in that it is calibrated I-XII twice with XII and the top and bottom whereas the real clock is calibrated I-XXIIII with XII and XXIII horizontally opposed. It would therefore appear that the model dial was created following the 1750s restoration of the real clock which followed this orientation and calibration. The real dial was returned to its original layout in the later 19th century. The tower case is made of copper painted to simulate stone and with gilt details. It is very finely constructed and an accurately proportioned representation of the real tower. Using techniques unavailable before the very late 18th century, it is almost certain that the case was constructed during the 19th century to house the earlier movement and dial. Of monumental proportions and, to our knowledge, a unique model of this most famous Venetian landmark, this exceptional, functioning model is a tribute to the architectural and horological innovation of early Renaissance Italy.