August 23, 2016

Strasbourg Astronomical Clock

        Here’s a cool wood block print of a cool thing: the second astronomical clock in the cathedral in Strasbourg, France.  (The present clock is the third, but appears to replicate this design.)  This woodcut is about 15x22.5 inches, and was printed from two blocks - you can see the line where the two sheets of paper are joined across the middle.  That means that each of the two blocks was just a little smaller than the largest block I’ve ever carved.  The artist, Tobias Stimmer (Swiss, 1539-1584) was one of the artists who made the actual clock.  I don’t think he was involved in the clock’s design, but he painted elaborate scenes to decorate it, particularly the three panels down the left tower, and other decorative elements.  (Keep in mind that Stimmer would have drawn the design for this woodcut, but not carved the block or printed it himself.  The printer was Johann Fischart, but the Formschneider (carver) was not named.)  I love the range of details, from the dials and measurements of the clock itself, to the gratuitous putti and curlicues sprinkled about, and even lions and a rooster perched here and there.
        The artist who actually designed the clock, Conrad Dasypodius (Swiss, 1532-1600), wrote a short book about mechanics, and decorated its title page with his own diagram of the Strasbourg clock.   The numbers on this picture are all explained later in the book.  This image is a good deal smaller and rougher than Stimmer’s, as befits its role as an illustrative diagram rather than a glamour shot.  Dasypodius claimed that his clock presented a complete and absolute description of time, including minutes, quarter-hours, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, a century, and the beginning and end of the world with Final Judgement and redemption.  A work of art, indeed!

[Pictures: Eigentliche Fürbildung und Beschreibung deß newen Künstlichen Astronomischen Urwecks zu Straßburg, woodcut by Tobias Stimmer, 1574 (Image from The Met);
Title page of Heron mechanicus by Conradus Dasypodius, 1580 (Image from University of Cambridge).]

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