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The collection of National Heritage clocks

Currently, the legacy of the Spanish Crown has an extensive collection of National Heritage clocks consisting of 721 pieces, all of them dated between 1583 and the first years of the 20th Century, in the different palaces and royal monasteries. To this day, there are other models similar to those that can be found at clocks auctions in Spain.

House of Habsburg

Spanish monarchs often showed a special interest in clocks, especially after Charles V and Philip II reigns, when we could really say that the fondness for these mechanical and scientific objects spread. We know that Philip II purchased several clocks to decorate some of the rooms of the Alcázar in Madrid, but only one is preserved.

It is a table clock, also called “de custodia”, made in gilt and wrought bronze, with just one needle, made in 1583 in Madrid by the Flemish master Hans de Evalo. On its circular base there is the figure of a faun, which in turn supports a folding piece with a lion’s head, which if raised allows the exit of a small lamp. It was a night clock: the King was always very interested in controlling time, either by day or by night. That is why he put it next to his bed, so he could know the time at every moment. Currently it can be found in the Monastery of El Escorial, and it is the oldest work of the collection.

The rest of monarchs in the House of Habsburg kept enriching the collection, mostly with clocks from Germany. However, all of them disappeared during the tragic fire of the Alcázar in 1734.

House of Bourbon

Philip V, the first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty, showed again the same interest as the previous monarchs for these objects, although especially for those of English origin and manufacture.

His son, Ferdinand VI, opted for smaller models, similar pieces of which can be found at auctions of antique pocket watches. Even so, he was always surrounded by magnificent works of English origin made by two renowned master clockmakers, George Graham and John Ellicott. At the same time, he promoted the training of some Spanish clockmakers so that they could improve their studies abroad.

Although his reign was one of the shortest in the 18th Century, it was one of the richest in terms of artistic and technical quality of clocks, which still decorate some of the halls of the Royal Palace in Madrid. This can be seen in John Ellicott’s longcase-style clock (1745), made of an ebony case decorated with gilt bronze applications, of almost three meters high.

The first Swiss clocks with automatons

Also during his reign, the first Swiss clocks with automatons came to Spain, and became truly whims that ended up delighting his last days, such as the astronomical table clock, of Louis XV style, known as El Pastor, made circa 1756 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz. The richness of this model, unlike the previous ones, lies not in the complexity of the machine’s operation itself, but in the diversity of the automatons set that decorates its case, made of wood with gilt bronze applications and embellished with mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell inlays.

His brother, Charles III, seeing the interest those items aroused, tried to establish a clockmaking school-factory in the Court. For its opening, he promoted the French clockmaking brothers Charost, so that they would be in charge of improving the techniques learned by the Spanish clockmakers.

Charles IV and his true passion for clocks

Charles IV kept the tradition, and since he was young, he felt attracted by the world of clocks, so much so that he even had his own workshop in the palace, where he himself created and repaired some machines.

He and his wife María Luisa of Parma spent lots of money on the purchase of an important set of clocks to decorate the New Palace in Madrid and their pleasure houses, mainly the house Labrador in Aranjuez. Although the King had several commercial agents, his main supplier was the French marchand-mercier François Louis Godon.

Godon was responsible for making the two large marble and bronze clocks that are now part of the decoration of the Throne Room in the Madrid palace, and the clock known as “El tiempo” (The time), in the Gasparini antechamber in the same palace. The latter, as its name indicates, represents an allegory of Time, on the one hand: inside a kind of temple under a cupola appears a winged child embodying the New Time, who accompanies and guides the way to an old man with a scythe, the symbol of Old Time, both made of Carrara marble. As reflected in the testament of Ferdinand VIII made in 1834, this clock was next to the Queen’s dresser.

During his reign, some of the best Spanish clocks were manufactured by masters such as Salvador López, Antonio Molina, Manuel de Rivas and Manuel Gutiérrez.

The King, trusting in his mastery, ordered a clock to Manuel Gutiérrez, with the intention of giving a present to his wife. Circa 1772, he delivered the clock to the King. It is an skeleton table clock, made in steel and gilt bronze, and its machinery is closed under crystal, because its manufacturer, proud of his work, didn’t want that a case could hidden its powerful system. It is placed on a small piece of furniture with stable supports, which help to level the clock.

After the Peninsular War

After the Peninsular War (1808 – 1814), Ferdinand II found that all palaces had been ruined during Napoleon’s invasion. For this reason, he requested inventories of all the goods that had remained in the royal courts and began to buy clocks, usually French.

At that time, French school was in full swing, and just as in the previous centuries, when some subjects had become fashionable, during the 19th Century the clocks cases often represented subjects inspired by Antiquity and classical literature, whose purpose was none other than to enhance the image of the monarch.

In that sense, and according to the date, the clock known as Atlas, in bronze, gold, leather, wood and metal, made circa 1800 by the Swedish Abraham-Louis Breguet is preserved. The case of this clock represents Atlas supporting the globe, and inside it there is a clock and the planetarium. On the outside, the globe is decorated with different polychrome constellations in gold on a blue background, and everything rests on a small wooden pedestal with a compass at the feet of the titan, and claw-shaped legs.

Finally, his successors, Isabel II, Alfonso XII and Alfonso XIII, kept collecting new models in accordance with the prevailing fashions during the rest of the second half of the 19th Century and the early decades of the 20th.