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Real Time and the Time of Reality

The Gallery of Modern Art at the Pitti Palace is presenting the exhibition Real Time and the Time of Reality until Jan. 8.

The exhibit, which aims to appreciate the clocks’ quality from a scientific and an art historical point of view, allows visitors to explore the shapes taken by time throughout the dynasties of the Medici, the Lorraine and the Savoy, by displaying a selection of approximately 60 out of a total of 200 timepieces in the palace’s collection.

Studied primarily as part of the huge legacy of furnishings and works of art in the palace, clocks – (almost) silent witnesses to the unfolding of events – played an important role in regulating the pace of life at court while at the same time being symbols of their owners’ prestige.

The clockmaker’s art held a special fascination for the palace’s noble residents, who availed themselves of the best masters working in Italy and abroad, inviting them to court to create masterpieces of their art. This relationship is conjured up in the exhibition by a mantel clock created by Ignatius Huggeford, an Englishman, for Cosimo III in the early years of the 18th century. The timepieces record the styles of different eras and the changing tastes of the figures who occupied the throne of Grand Duchy of Tuscany. From the sober elegance of the religieuse decorated with the arms of the Medici, its face supported by a winged and bearded Allegory of Time, to the clock depicting the majestic figure of Aurora (the dawn), each piece shows us how important it was to symbolise time in material form. The clock-face became the focal point of a composition which embraced the ceaseless rotary movement of the hands; the primary sources of inspiration for the artisans who created these timepieces were the gods and goddesses of classical mythology and the personification as allegories of abstract notions linked to the passage of time, but also animals with a metaphorical significance, as in the case of the clock resting on an elephant symbolising patience and longevity.

“Appreciated, also in Florence, not only as luxurious and exorbitantly expensive objets d’art, but also as wonderfully intricate automatisms, the clocks in the Medici and Lorraine collections project the image of a court in which mechanical and technical skill was no less valued or admired than the creative talent of the goldsmiths who set the movements in complex decorations, often adorned with allegories of Time. Indeed a clockmaker tasked with the maintenance of the precious objects’ delicate movements was a salaried member of the court’s permanent staff,” said Eike Schmidt, Director of the Gallerie degli Uffizi.

Before the mechanical clock was perfected, scientists used tools that depended for their functioning on the observation of the stars and planets, the primary focal point associated with the natural passage of time and the alternation of the sun and moon. Thus Real Time and the Time of Reality also hosts a broad range of scientific instruments – for instance, a reproduction of Galileo’s Jovilabe and a selection of sundials used to measure time before the birth of the clock – from other Florentine museums such as the Museo Galileo and the Museo Stibbert.

Bridging the gap between 19th and 20th centuries is a collection of contemporary jewellery inspired by the theme of time, such as Fausto Maria Franchi’s ring Ore perdute or Virginia Tentindò’s necklace L’eterno ritorno, Surrealist in inspiration– all of them objects with an important conceptual significance that illustrate novel ways of depicting time. This small digression introduces visitors to the final section of the exhibition, devoted to the 20th century and hosted in the Saloncino delle Statue, a part of the Galleria d’arte Moderna, where visitors can explore some of the new ways of perceiving time in the 20th century.

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