In the sixteenth century collections in Europe reflected the interest of the people who were wealthy or powerful enough to form them. The Kunstkammer was in the German speaking countries in this period not just a collection of curiosities. Collectors were greatly influenced by a theoretical concept of the Kunstkammer as an assemblage of objects organised to display the owner’s cognizance of both the natural world and the products of human artifice. Many Kunstkammers contained a few mathematical instruments, globes and clocks. These clocks customarily not only displayed time but often also calendrical and astronomical information.
This rare and unusual quarter-striking German tabernacle clock with astrolabe (Türmchenuhr), was made around 1560. All sides of the fire-gilt copper case are chased with arabesque scroll motifs in Oriental style. The corners are embellished by intricately shaped, cast and worked columns with capitals and bases. The top consists of a cylindrical, pierced and engraved pillar gallery, in which two bells are situated. This gallery is capped by a richly pierced dome, surmounted by a winged Chronos figure with his usual attributes: a sickle and an hour glass. The dome is supported by buttresses, embellished with acanthus leaves, which reflect those on the corner columns. Between these are buttresses in the shape of a man who seems to carry the roof on his shoulders. These buttresses are surmounted by a circle of finials. The four corner finials surrounding the dome are in the form of pomegranates. The square, moulded base is finely chased with C-scrolls and fruit and leaf motifs. The whole rests on four, fire-gilt brass kneeling unicorns.
The Ottomanian influences on the case are not only visible in the arabesque scroll motifs but also in the pierced dome. These motifs were highly fashionable in Europe in the sixteenth century when after the invasion of the Turks and their siege of Vienna in 1529 not only the fear for but also interest in arose.
Artists responded to the growing demand for information on the Ottomans with a wide range of printed matter. The popularity of ornament prints with for instance arabesque patterns can be demonstrated by its quick spread over Europe. The Antwerp publisher Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570) published a large number of ornament prints that were soon copied by artists like Augustin Hirschvogel (1543) and Peter Flötner. Their work was used by craftsmen for the decoration of in this case a clock which in a Kunstkammer not only showed the interest in time and astrology but also in the Ottomanian culture
The front of the clock shows a large chapter ring with an astrolabe. The fire-gilt brass outer ring is engraved with Arabic numerals 1-24 with touch pieces. This surrounds a silvered Roman chapter ring (twice I-XII). Both show the time, indicated by a gilt-brass hand with solar motif and a hand opposite. In its turn the silvered Roman ring surrounds a gilt-brass ring with the months and dates in the month; the date being indicated by a gilt-brass hand with lunar motif. There is an eccentric ring connected to the year ring, in which the signs of the zodiac are engraved. In this way the position of the sun in the zodiac can be seen against the silvered and engraved background, whilst the time of sunrise and sunset, and other astronomical data can be read. The centre of the hand system has an engraved scale 1-29.5 on which the age of the moon is indicated by the tail of the moon hand. The centre piece, in which an aspectogram is engraved, has a circular hole showing the moon phase. At the back of the clock is another chapter ring, which shows the position of the hour striking train (1-12). There is a small hole through which, if necessary, the striking train can be synchronised with the going train. To one side there is a similar Arabic ring with a similar hand with which the alarm time can be set. There are four winding holes, of which there are three at the back, respectively for the hour-striking train, the quarter-hour striking train via an extended arbor, and the alarm. The going train is wound from the front via a special wheel train, allowing the winding arbor to be in the lower right-hand corner.
The movement is made entirely of iron, except for later parts, such as the crown wheel and contrate wheel, which are made of brass. It has a 24-hour duration and is driven by three springs in spring barrels via chain fusees. The going train has a later verge escapement and a front pendulum (now missing). The hour striking train, regulated by an iron countwheel, indicates the hours fully on a bell of lower pitch, whilst the quarter-hour striking train, also regulated by a countwheel, indicates the quarter hours on a bell of higher pitch.
Finally the clock has an alarm. There is a button under the bell with which the alarm can be switched on and off, whilst the alarm time is set from the side of the clock.
The Blumka provenance:
Leopold Blumka was a scholarly specialist in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art. The Blumka Gallery was founded in the 1880's in Vienna. It moved to Manhattan in the late 1930's, under the stewardship of Leopold Blumka.
In 1939, Ruth Zickel, the 19-year-old daughter of prominent Munich dealers in German Expressionist paintings, arrived in New York.
They married, and in 1942 she joined him at the gallery, putting her charm and sophistication to good use. They had excellent material and enjoyed real success, selling to museums and major private collectors like Robert Lehman, the Untermeyers, and Belle and Jack Linsky. (Some of these pieces are now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) They had two children, Vicky and Tony. Next tot heir work as art dealers they collected as well. A large group of renaissance clocks was part of their private collection. Several of them were loaned to the exhibition Northern European clocks in New York Collections in 1972.
The Blumkas were civic minded, donating art to the Cloisters at the Met, the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and the National Gallery in Washington.
Leopold died in 1973. But the firm, under Ruth Blumka and her daughter, continued to prosper. In 1978, Tony Blumka left home to go out on his own, opening a gallery of medieval art and contemporary paintings. After his sister died, in 1990, however, he rejoined his mother at the family gallery. She died in 1994.