This magnificent Italian night clock is set within an architectural case in the fashionable late 17th century tipo ad altare form. Like the majority of portable table clocks, its ebony case is embellished with a painted copper face which is flanked by columns and surmounted by a pediment. Timothy Clifford describes how this form was well-established in Germany: "as the name suggests, in most respects, apart from the clock mechanism, the portable clocks followed the contemporary format of altar-pieces, in particular the small portable altars so popular in Augsburg". (T. Clifford, Another clock painted by Baciccio?, in "The Burlington Magazine", vol 118, n. 885, p. 852).
These elaborate portable altar clocks were constructed by teams of craftsmen consisting of clock-makers, cabinet-makers, sculptors and painters. However, the richness of the baroque details and lavish use of pietra dura suggest that this clock case was a product of German cabinet-makers working in Rome, which was a common occurrence during the second half of the 17th century.
A clock, signed P. T. Campani (for Pietro Tommaso Campani) and dated 1683, which bears the closest similarities - both in form and decoration - with the present example, is in the British Museum (Tardy, French clocks. Clocks the world over, vol IV, Paris, 1949, plate CXXVI).
A similarly impressive night clock, also signed by Pietro Tommaso Campani and dated 1663, is part of the collections of furniture of the studiolo in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, made by Giacomo Herman in Rome sometime before his death in 1685 (A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto. Roma e il regno delle due Sicilie, vol. I, Milano, 1984, plate X). While it has been established that Herman collaborated with at least one of the Campani brothers, various foreign cabinet makers - including the Swiss Giovanni Sigrist and the German Giovanni Falghero (Falker) - are also known to have worked in Rome during this period. A further Campani clock is in the Palazzo Senatori of Rome (E. Morpurgo, Un orologio di Pietro Tommaso Campani in "La Clessidra", Rome, 1968, n. 12).
The painted panels are attributed to Carlo Maratta, one of the most successful painters in Rome in the late 17th century. The dial panel, which illustrates the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, depicts God the Father giving his blessing to the Virgin Mary. Mary's important religious status is emphasised by the twelve stars that encircle her head and the moon underneath her feet. She is hereby represented as the Virgin 'free from all sins' in the act of atoning for Original Sin - committed by her female ancestor, Eve - through her pacification of the rearing dragon, the symbol of the devil. On the top panel, above the arched aedicule, two angels are holding a scroll which reads: Eligit eam Deus et praelegit. Such a message conveying the divinely instituted nature of temporal order is in perfect keeping with a mechanism used to quantify time. Overall, this scene would have served to highlight one of the most important authoritative doctrinal issues of the Catholic Church, while simultaneously acting as a reminder of the brevity of life and the passing of time in the typical 17th century vanitas tradition.
PIETRO TOMMASO CAMPANI
The historical background to the invention of the night clock provides a fascinating insight into the practical considerations of the most important patrons of 17th century Rome. Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667), unable to sleep during the night due to the noise produced by his clock, commissioned the Campani brothers to create a silent clock. The time, which can be read through the placement of a lamp or candle behind the pierced dials of the night clock, would have thus been revealed to the pope throughout the day and night without ever disturbing his sleep. After this commission, both brothers created various night clocks for princes, nobles, ambassadors and other members of the higher échelons of the clergy, as the fashion for such clocks intensified across Italy and the rest of Europe.
Pietro Tommaso, the most prolific and renowned of the clock-making Campani brothers - the others being Giuseppe and Matteo - worked in Rome during the second half of the 17th century. Although both Giuseppe and Pietro Tommaso claimed for themselves the invention of the night or silent clock in 1660, Pietro Tommaso is now widely considered to have been the driving force behind the creation of this new type of clock (see S. Bedini, Introduzione, Discorso intorno a suoi muti oriuoli of 1660 by Giuseppe Campani, and at the Lettera di Pier Tommaso Campani nella quale dimostra l'origine e l'arte dell'oriuolo published the same year, Milan, 1983). Allan Ramsay provides the technical details of the invention: "Pietro Tommaso invented a silent 'escapment' in which he converted reciprocal into rotatory motion, resulting in continuous instead of intermittent motion and, since there is no 'escapment' as such, the clock functioned in complete silence. This complete achievement of silence was at the expense of accurate time-keeping. The pendulum hangs from a curved arm connected with a weighted bar at one end and at the other, an eccentrically placed disc on the hub of the escape wheel, if we may so call. This arm is set in motion by a forked piece fixed to the top of the pendulum. Once going, the weighted bar gives the impetus to the balance wheel." (H. Alan Lloyd, The collector's dictionary of clocks, New York, 1964, pg. 53).
CARLO MARATTA, OR "CARLUCCIO DELLE MADONNE" (1625-1713)
Carlo Maratta, celebrated for his religious altarpieces in the manner of Raphael, decorated a large number of clock dials during the second half of the 17th century. He became especially adept at painting the panels on night clocks, and in the process, rivalled similar works by Baciccia and Trevisani (A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Arredi e Ornamenti alla corte di Roma, Milano, 2004, pg. 104). After his training in the workshop of Andrea Sacchi, Maratta rapidly became a highly successful and accomplished artist of the period. His style is characterised by a form of classicism inspired by Raphael and influenced by Roman artists such as Annibale Carracci and Guido Reni. The elegant and idealised rendering of the Virgin Mary, as well as the harmonious composition and use of bright colours, typifies the superlative elegance of Maratta's classical style (E. Morpurgo, op. cit.).
A stylistically comparable panel that features on the painted dial of a clock formerly with Colnaghi was also executed by Maratta (A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto. Roma e il regno delle due Sicilie, vol. I, Milan, 1984, plate XI). Indeed this clock, mentioned by Chantelou in his Journal du voyage du Bernin en France en 1665, was originally given to King Louis XIV by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, again indicating the popularity for such portable clocks among the most significant and powerful collectors of the period.
'Son Eminence (Cardinal Antonio Barberini) a fait voir au Cavalier (Barberini) une montre pour la nuit oy, par le moyen d'une lampe qui iclaire le cadron, on peut voir a toute heure de la nuit quelle heure il est. Il y a dans cette montre une tableau de Carlo Maratte, de petites figures d'un pied de haut que le Cavalier a fort louie (His Eminence showed the Cavaliere a night clock where one could read the hour all through the night because of a lamp which illuminated the face. There is a painting by Carlo Maratta on this clock whose small figures of no more than a foot high were praised by the Cavaliere)' (A. Gonzalez-Palacios, Bernini as a Furniture Designer, "The Burlington Magazine", 1970, n. 812, vol. CXII, p. 719).