The exhibition of clocks, watches and time-measuring devices shows changes in time-keeping in particular from the point of view of artistic treatment of clock cases, while documenting the development of the clock mechanism.

The horology collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is one of the largest and most varied in the Czech Republic in terms of kind as well as artistic design. Whereas the National Technical Museum specializes in the mechanical aspect of clocks, the Museum of Decorative Arts focuses on artistically shaped and decorated items, presenting to the public a number of table sundials, a great collection of watches and above all a remarkable selection of domestic clocks.

Wheel-driven clocks for indoor use were considered a rarity at the time of their creation and special attention was therefore devoted to their external appearance. Throughout the centuries, clockmaking — like other forms of decorative arts — was affected by the changing trends in style, and so was the role of clocks in the decoration of interiors. Prominent artists, architects, sculptors and painters also participated in designing of clock cases, an involvement that emphasized the significance of timepieces as characteristic elements in the development of style and art of the period. Timepieces were the pride of their owner and as such they are proof of the highest quality of the arts and crafts of their period, which makes them an attractive collectors’ items.

The Museum of Decorative Arts owns a number of tabernacle clocks, which appeared as an integral part of interior decoration in the 16th century. The horology collection includes several sundials and astronomical devices designed by leading European artists (Johann Steinmeissel, Erasmus Habermel, Andreas Pleninger, Johann Engelbrecht). The tradition of making of these devices in Prague is connected with the boom of astronomy and astrology during the rule of Emperor Rudolf II in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. These pieces were donated to the Museum of Decorative Arts at the time of its establishment by its patrons and founders.

The core of the collection consists of indoor aristocratic and bourgeois clocks from the 18th and 19th centuries. The late 18th century brought about figure-shaped or sculptural Classicist clocks. The French ones were made of gilded brass, the Czech and Central European ones of richly carved and gilded wood; later came portico, frame and picture clocks from Empire and Biedermeier periods. The clocks were a combination of the artistic taste and technical ability resulting from collaboration of a sculptor, woodcarver, smith and clockmaker. Such clocks usually told time, date, sometimes moon phases; they struck the whole hour, half an hour as well as a quarter of an hour. Wall clocks, frame clocks and picture clocks with Romantic landscapes and figure staffage tried to compete with period paintings. They contained a musical box, fulfilling the age-old human effort to combine business and pleasure.

Clocks in the early 20th century were designed by a number of prominent architects as an integral part of period interiors (Jan Koula, Dušan Jurkovič, Jan Kotěra, Josef Gočár). The Art Nouveau period, which merely applied decorative style on the existing types of clocks — be it vegetative or geometric motifs — was followed in the 1920s by a strictly technical concept of the clock in the upcoming Functionalist style.

The collection of watches of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is part of the collection of jewelry and precious metals, which corresponds with the character of these miniature treasures. Of the total number of 900 items, 300 of which are autonomous watch mechanisms, the exhibition features a selection of the most beautiful and interesting types from the same time interval — from the 16th to 20th centuries. Watches are not merely a product of watchmakers, but they testify to the skilled workmanship of the best goldsmiths, jewelers and enamellers of the time. While watchmakers put their names on the back plate of the clock mechanism and sometimes even on the face, the work by other artists and craftsmen remains anonymous, except for rare cases.

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