The Art of Clockmaking in the Maremma – XIV-XIX Centuries
by Giotto Minucci
Primitive humans observed and contemplated the phenomena of the universe around them. They noticed that day changed into night and that differences attended the succession of the seasons.
They noticed many small things – that some singing birds are quiet at certain hours of the day, some flowers open and close their petals with regularity, that shadows produced by the sun’s rays are very long in the morning, shorter at midday, and become long again in the evening. Humans used the clocks of Nature to regulate their lives after observing changes in the Sun and Moon, in the world around them, in their own bodies, and in the behavior of animals and plants.
Looking at the sky they saw that the perfect synchronism in the movements of the stars and planets determined the measure of time. They found simple ways to measure the passage of time – the sun dial, the hour glass, and the water clock.
As understanding of the natural sciences progressed, people made a better and more precise mechanism to tell time. They called it “horologium” from the Latin, and the word soon became of general use throughout Europe and among the scholars of the Roman Empire.
The clock did not become a mechanism of precision until 1582 when Galileo discovered “isochronism” – the rhythm that governs every aspect of the world and universe. The knowledge enabled Galileo and his successors to measure time exactly by counting uniform periodic motions.
The art of clockmaking began with the institution of the monastic orders, but credit for the invention of the “artificial clock” – a clock with wheels driven by weights – is attributed to Ireneo Pacifico, the Archdeacon of the Church of Verona (778-846).
He was a man of exceptional culture, an astronomer, a mathematician, an architect, and a poet. In his poem “Argumentum Horologi” he describes the principles of the clock’s construction, the Celestial Sphere – an ideal external sphere concentric with the earth that rotates in an arc of 24 hours – the stars, and the North Star as the point of reference during the dark hours of the night. He tells us that the “horologium” is regulated by the stars.
The “Argumentum Horologii” was well known during the Middle Ages throughout Europe. It was appreciated for its poetic composition and its important scientific value. It came to be the source of fundamental knowledge for the making of mechanical clocks with a crown wheel, and especially for those clocks with complicated mechanisms like the escapement and the partitora, a crown wheel with irregularly-spaced teeth that regulates a clock’s chiming.
The disciples of Ireneo Pacifico comemmorated their great teacher with this epitaph in the Church of S. Zeno in Verona: “No one before him found a way to tell time at night. He found a way and he built the first night clock.” A weight-driven clock of the type invented by Pacifico was placed in the church tower in Verona during the 8th century.
It can be confirmed that the first information about clocks with crown wheels was found in Italy and that the noble art of clockmaking was born there.
Actual mechanical clockmaking began in Europe in 1300 in Milan, the first town to have a public clock. The clock was placed in the tower of the Church of S. Eustorgio. This was noted in a manuscript by Galvano Fiamma (1283-1344), a chronicler from Milan: “A magnificent quadrant was placed in the tower, a clock constructed of iron”. All the civilized world was astonished to see a clock with crown wheels, weight-driven, a masterpiece of the genius of Man. Dante describes the clock in Cantos X, XXIV, XXVIII, and XXXIII of the Paradiso.
After Milan, all the principal cities in Italy competed to have clocks of their own in the Palazzo Pubblico or in the bell towers of their artistic churches.
In Florence, always a center of culture, art and science, the first clock was placed in the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1354. Siena added a magnificent clock to the Torre del Mangia in 1359.
Grosseto had a public clock by 1400, as indicated in a notation in the “Descrizione delle Entrate e Spese” of the Republic of Siena: “To the Clockmaker twelve golden scudi a year”.
Soon public clocks were also found in smaller communities. In 1676, Senatore Bartolomeo Gherardini in the services of Cosimo III, Granduke of Tuscany, listed no less than 259 towns and in nearly all of them was a public clock. This is shown by notations indicating the monies paid to clockmakers in these towns for their services.
In the Tuscan language of the 14th century, the curators of civic clocks were called “temperatori”, which meant “clockmakers” or “teachers of clockmaking”. The temperatori were able artisans who knew how to read and write, how to solve mathematical calculations, and who had knowledge of astronomy. They were experts on the properties of metals – especially iron, which they could work at both hot and cold temperatures. The temperatori were well paid by the community government and enjoyed a position of prestige in society.
Today in the Maremma very few antique clocks remain in our towers. The most important in regard to the history of clockmaking are those in Grosseto, Pari, and in Montepescali.
These clocks were admirably restored by Carlo Alberto Nannetti. A most able artisan, he had the mechanical know-how to restore the clocks to their original condition and use. These clocks were studied to help identify the nationality of the clock in the History Museum of Geneva. It was determined that this clock came from the province of Grosseto.
Carlo Alberto Nannetti also preserved many precious works relating to the art of clockmaking in the Province of Grosseto and in Tuscany.