Horology in Art

  • HSNY at the General Society Library 20 West 44th Street New York, NY, 10036 United States

Bob Frishman - Founder and Owner of Bell-Time Clocks

Video recordings of meetings are available to HSNY members.

Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812

For more than 2,000 years, timekeepers have appeared in art. An ancient Roman mosaic depicting “Plato’s Academy” shows a pedestal-mounted sundial, a 1285 manuscript illuminates a water clock, several 16th century Renaissance portraits by Titian feature small gilt mechanical table clocks, American folk and genre painters include shelf, banjo and tall clocks in their domestic scenes, Marc Chagall often depicts a German wall clock from his Eastern European boyhood home, and Jamie Wyeth’s 1994 view on Monhegan Island has his teenage model Orca Bates posed next to a stately grandfather clock.

Unlike random photo snapshots, nothing in paintings, drawings, prints and fine-art photography appears by accident.  Each artist decides what is included. In many, if not most, instances where clocks and watches are present, they have symbolic or metaphorical significance. When mechanical timepieces first appeared in the 13th century, analogies to “God the clockmaker” were common, linking a clock’s steady self-propelled action to the motion of the entire universe.  During the Renaissance, timekeepers demonstrated a person’s or city’s affluence, discipline, and technological sophistication. Later artworks continued to use clocks and watches to symbolize mortality and the need for humans to use wisely their brief time on earth. More modern depictions may emphasize the growing tyranny of timekeeping that governs all our waking hours. Sometimes the timepiece simply shows the time, but usually for a specific reason.

In an educational and entertaining illustrated lecture combining art and horology histories, Bob Frishman will project images of more than 150 artworks, most by well-known artists. In some, the clock or watch is boldly apparent; in others, it is a minor but significant character that needs pointing out.  For each, Frishman will briefly discuss the artist, the context, and the timekeeper. Art lovers will enjoy this multi-century panorama of art, and horological enthusiasts will view timepieces with important roles in these period settings.

Bob Frishman, photographed by Kevin Harkins

About Bob Frishman
Bob Frishman is founder and owner of Bell-Time Clocks in Andover, Massachusetts.  He has collected, restored, researched, written and lectured about timekeepers since 1980.  He has repaired more than 7,000 clocks and watches, and sold more than 1,700. He is a Fellow of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Chairman of the NAWCC Time Symposium Committee, and a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (London, UK). Along with dozens of articles on many horology topics, he writes a “Horology in Art” feature for each issue of the NAWCC magazine. 

He is organizing a “Horology in Art” NAWCC symposium in October, 2017, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. A roster of eminent art historians and curators already have been recruited to discuss artworks in their areas of expertise, and each will be followed by a horologist who will describe timepieces depicted in the projected artworks.