Astronomical clock

Artist or maker:
Metzker, Jeremias (b.c 1530, d.1592)
case by Augsburg metalsmith Unknown
base frieze after engraving by Hans Sebald Beham (b.1500, d.1550)
hunting scenes after engraving by Virgil Solis (German, b.1514, d.1562)
date engraved on base
Place of production:
Augsburg, Germany
bronze, gold and silver
Type of object:
astronomical clocks
Accession number:


Designed to be a luxury demonstration of a prince's scientific knowledge, this clock is one of a number of similar pieces made by the Augsburg clock-maker Jeremias Metzker. To produce this earliest-known example, Metzker worked with an unknown metalsmith who made the case. This metalsmith went on to supply other clock-makers with the same case, attesting to the popularity of its design.

The case is signed by Metzker which suggests he helped to fashion its complex arrangement and decoration. It is not known who made the case, but the chasing is particularly fine suggesting an accomplished master. He later cast and chased the same design for Metzker in 1564 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. KK_852) as well as for the Viennese clock-maker Caspar Böheim in 1568. The corner columns also appear on a range of cases supplied to clockmakers active in Munich and Schwaz.

Erudite and fashionable subject matter weaves its way around the many dials designed to manage all aspects of time. The hunt scenes pierced into the removable top are taken from popular prints by the Nuremberg-based artist Virgil Solis (1514-1562), while the two female figures chased on the base are copied from a print by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550) showing a triumphal procession of women. Five allegorical figures on the side panels are probably allegories of the senses, each with an appropriate animal. Themes of death, sensual desire and the power of women were all associated with the fickle goddess Fortune, who stands on top of the clock. These chaotic scenes are juxtaposed with the careful arrangement of dials and inscriptions that suggest Time can be tamed with rational science.

The clock has a large range of functions arranged across the four sides of the case. It tells the time in both the Italian and Nuremberg system of hours as well as giving the times of sunrise and sunset. It has an alarm and a calendar showing the Saints' days and other Holy Days. It is possible to check the sun's position in the zodiac and the Dominical letter to help calculate the day of the week of a given date. On the back is an astrolable, the days of the week and their corresponding planet rulers. There is also instructions for finding the Golden Number for any year - its position in a 19-year sequence.

Such complex clocks were important items for German princes to display in their treasure rooms known as "schatzkammer". The Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II (1552-1612), who had the biggest such collection of the time, owned a similar clock made by David Altenstetter (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Kunstkammer, inv. no. I. 121). In the Green Vault at Dresden, where the collection of Augustus the Strong (1670-1733) was displayed to the public, there was a large number of scientific instruments and complex clocks designed to showcase Saxon engineering as well as their mastery in goldsmith work. In his memoir of collecting entitled 'Bric-a-Brac', Ferdinand de Rothschild singled out these collections for their taste, in opposition to other German rulers more interested in 'stuffed animals or mineralogical specimens' (see Michael Hall, 'Bric-a-Brac' "Apollo" (Jul-Aug 2007), p. 62).

The clock does not appear in the inventory of Waddesdon made in 1898 after Ferdinand de Rothschild's death. It also does not appear in notes made by Alice de Rothschild about the collection in 1906 and 1910. It is most likely then that the clock was purchased by her after this date as an appropriate piece for the Smoking Room at Waddesdon. It appears in this room in the inventory of 1922, taken after Alice's death.

The Smoking Room at Waddesdon was designed in the early 1890s to house the collection of medieval and Renaissance treasures inherited and acquired by Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898). This collection was bequeathed to the British Museum at Ferdinand's death. A few pieces did remain in the room, photographed for "Country Life" magazine in 1902. Alice used the opportunity of the bequest to acquire her own collection for Waddesdon. She went on to buy suitable glass, maiolica, enamels and paintings to re-populate the Smoking Room. Recently uncovered receipts show Alice purchased several 18th-century clocks from the London dealers Durlacher Bros. and Charles Davis. She may have acquired this piece from a similar source.

Phillippa Plock, 2014

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
292 x 187 x 120
Maker's mark
[on base, engraved]

15 3[?] AVGSPVRG 63
Maker's mark
[on base, engraved]

[two shields, with Augsburg pineapple and I. M.]
Maker's mark
[on each side of movement, initials of Jeremias Metzker]
Ad uieniendū aūreū nūmerūm
Regūla Nota qūia anno domi : 156Z
eramis sub domo crucis et habean''
ūs.5. pro aūreo numero Deinde discur
re per annos domini de domo in domū
et invenies aūreiōn nūmerū illius
anni cūrentis.
[left end, foot of plate]

Ad imīeniendūm litteram dominicalem
Regūla Nota qūia anno dṁ. 1. 5. 6. Z. er
am' sūb domo crūcis et habeamūs.D.pro
littera dominicale Deinde discurre
per annos domini de domo indomū
et eam inūenies dūicale siendu tam
en est op qūotibet anno comūne vt.
ūntūr sūperioribūs litteris An
noūero bissextili dūplicoribūs Ad fest
ūm . SA: Mathiae Apostoli ūidelicet sūp :
erioribūus vtendūn est Deinde ūero
pro reliqūa anni parte inferio
[right end, foot of plate]
Translation of inscription:
To find the Golden Number by the prescribed Rule, because we were in the Lord 1562 we were [under the master of the cross?] and should have 5 for the Golden Number. From there proceed through the years of the Lord [of Lords?] and you will find the Golden Number for the current year.
To find the Sunday letter by the prescribed Rule, because we were in the year of the Lord 1562 we were [under the master of the cross?] and should have D for the Sunday letter. From there proceed through the years of the Lord [of Lords?] and you will find the Sunday letter in use. However the method is that we use the upper letters in every ordinary year. In leap years they are duplicated. Up to the feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle the upper ones are used; then for the rest of the year the lower ones.
[under hood on bell support, label handwritten in ink, probably a 19th century dealer's price tag]


Owned by Eugen Felix of Leipzig before 1886; his sale, J.M. Heberle of H Lempertz Sohne, Cologne, 25 October 1886, lot 769, for 40,000 marks; probably acquired by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1990.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1990



J M Heberle; Catalog der Reichhaltigen Kunst-Sammlung des Herrn Eugen Felix in Leipzig; Cologne; Metzger & Wittig; 1886; pp. 118-19, lot 769. ill.; with ebony base now absent.
Erwin Neumann, Die Tischuhr des Jeremias Metzker von 1564 und ihre nächsten Verwandten, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, 57, 1961, 89-123; pp. 110-12, n. 53; as lost.
F A B Ward, A Distinguished Continental Clock Rediscovered, Antiquarian Horology, 4, June 1965, 343-345; pp. 343-5, ill.
F A B Ward, An outstanding domestic clock rediscovered at Waddesdon, The Connoisseur, 160, September 1965, 34-5; pp. 34-5, ill.
Geoffrey de Bellaigue, Anthony Blunt; Furniture Clocks and Gilt Bronzes: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; 2 vols; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1974; vol. 1, pp. 146-153, cat. no. 29, ill.

Entry from (Bellaigue, 1974):


Indexed terms