Clockwork, print, and the passage of time.

On New Year’s Eve, the pine-boughs through the window were white with snow, and the afternoon landscape was perfectly silent, save for the distant sound of crows. Before I left home for the evening, I thought of the passage of time, and the frontispiece to the little treatise on mechanics, and encomium on Hero of Alexandria that Conrad Dasypodius (1532-1600) printed in Strasbourg in 1580. Six years before, working together with David Wolkenstein, the Halbrechts, and the Swiss painter Tobias Stimmer, Dasypodius had completed the great astronomical clock in the south transept of the Strasbourg Cathedral. On leaf F1r of the Heron Mechanicus, Dasypodius began an elaborate description of his clock, in sections that correspond to the Arabic numerals printed on the image. Although the celestial globe at the center is unnumbered in the diagram, (2) and (3) refer to the mechanisms for representing solar and lunar eclipses for the next 32 years; (4) a perpetual calendar which could keep the Dominical letters and intercalary years for the next century; (5-6) paintings of Apollo and Diana, and the Four Monarchies from Daniel 8:22; (7) a dial which divided the hour into four parts, and (as Dasypodius claimed) paritum minuta monstrantur; (9-10) depicted an orrery and dial for phases of the moon; (11-12) showed a carillon which would chime while a statue of death would appear like the cuckoo in a cuckoo clock (it seems); above all (14) marked an automaton rooster that crowed thrice at noon. By 1788 the clock had stopped working, decayed by rust and verdigris: it was replaced by Jean-Baptiste SchwilguĂ© in 1842.

The woodcut clockwork on the page cannot move, but it still presents a quasi-schematic overview of both the mechanism and the text.