What you see: A painted and gilt copper model of the clock tower in Piazza San Marco, Venice. It stands nine feet, eight inches tall. The movement appears to date to the 18th century, and the case to the early 19th century. Sotheby’s estimates the model clock tower at £600,000 to £800,000, which is between $776,000 and $1 million.
Ok, there’s not much we can definitively say about how this Piazza San Marco model clock tower came to be, but what’s your best guess? “The best theory I can come up with is the movement [the clock works] was made first and probably made about the same time the movement of the original was revamped by Bartolomeo Ferracina,” says Jonathan Hills, senior specialist for clocks at Sotheby’s. “I’ve got a feeling, nothing more than that, that it was made by someone involved with work [on the Venetian original]. It copies it almost exactly. It’s complicated. There are four individual weight-driven trains of wheels, each at a 90 degree angle to the other. That’s virtually unheard of. Usually they’re in a line, or are one behind the other.”
Is it a pain in the neck to arrange the movement’s wheel trains at 90 degree angles to each other? “It is. You have to wind it in four different directions,” he says, adding that the clock probably needs to be wound every day. At the time of the interview, it wasn’t operating, but Hills confirmed that it does indeed run.
The lot notes and your earlier answer mention that Bartolomeo Ferracina revamped the movement of the Venetian original in the 1750s. Do we have any evidence that the replica movement was built by him or someone on his team? “It’s very tempting to tie the two together, but there’s no proof,” Hills says. “Attention was very much focused on [the original] during the 1750s. It seems like a logical time for the replica movement to be done. Whoever made it had to have access to the real thing and had to have clock-making skills.”
Refurbishing the clock tower in the Piazza San Marco is a big job. Is there any chance Ferracina had the replica movement built as a test or a proof-of-concept? “The original was in such poor condition, they were effectively redesigning it. It’s possible they made a working model, but that tends to be done on the drawing board. You can calculate a movement a lot more easily than you can make one,” he says. “This was probably done for someone’s amusement or self-interest rather than a technical exercise, but we’ll never know, unfortunately.”
If it wasn’t placed outdoors, where would someone have put this Piazza San Marco model clock tower? It’s nearly 10 feet tall! “It would have to be a large house, but Italian homes are known for their tall ceilings,” Hills says. “I can see it gracing the piano nobile of a Venetian home, or somebody who had a large home elsewhere, but was of Venetian origin. What better reminder could there be of home?”
Again, we have no records from the people who made the movement for the Piazza San Marco model clock tower, nor do we have records from the people who made the case. But give us a notion–how much work does this clock represent? “To make the clock movement, on its own, we’re talking about hundreds of hours of work,” he says. “The case–I can’t fully appreciate or understand the techniques involved in creating that case. It appears to be rolled and pressed sheet copper. Where you’d go to find someone who does that today . . . I don’t know how it could be done. This clock is a huge amount of work, hundreds of hours at different times by different groups of people.”
What else makes this Piazza San Marco model clock tower special? “I first saw it assembled in the photo studio, and it took my breath away. The scale is so impressive, and the proportions are so impressive–it all just works,” Hills says, adding that he’s been with Sotheby’s for 25 years and represents the sixth generation of a clock-making family. “I am a clock person. What I really appreciate is what’s going on inside, seeing the beautiful four-sided movement. It’s so multi-faceted. There’s so much to look at, and so much to appreciate. I’ve never handled anything like it before. To see this scale replica–it’s not something I’ll ever forget.”
Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.
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