blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


ELIZABETH KING | Clockwork Prayer


1. Carlos Fuentes, "Velázquez, Plato's Cave and Bette Davis," The New York Times 15 Mar. 1987.

2. "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made," Psalm 139, Verse 14.
My phrase "in a complicated and urgent way" is borrowed from Michael Baxandall, The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980) p 153. "The devotional image is often a special case because acts of devotion involve urgent and complicated kinds of expectation and desire [. . .]."

3. Federico García Lorca, Deep Song and Other Prose, ed. and trans. Christopher Maurer (New York: New Directions, 1980) "Play and Theory of the Duende."

4. I first saw the monk in 1989, when Christopher Furman, then a student in my advanced sculpture class at Virginia Commonwealth University, arranged a trip to the Smithsonian to see it and meet David Todd.

5. William H. Prescott, History of the Reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain, ed. John Foster Kirk, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1874). It is interesting to compare this publishing date with the first performance of Verdi's opera in Paris in 1867.

6. Prescott, vol. II, pp 467-8. Erysipelas, also called St. Anthony's fire, was a spreading inflammation of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, now understood to be caused by a streptococcus.

7. Henry Kamen, Philip of Spain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) pp 91-2.

8. L. J. Andrew Villalon, "Putting Don Carlos Together Again: Treatment of a Head Injury in Sixteenth-Century Spain," Sixteenth Century Journal 26.2 (1995): pp 347-65. Among the versions of the story of Don Carlos' illness I compare here, it is Villalon's particular contribution to base the account on an extensive study of the direct testimony of the prince's attending physicians.

9. Villalon, pp 357-8.

10. Villalon, p 354.

11. Villalon, pp 361-2.

12. José A. García-Diego, Los relojes y autómatas de Juanelo Turriano (Madrid: Tempvs Fvgit, Monografías Españolas de Relojería, 1982) pp LV-LX, figs 6.3-6.9.

13. García-Diego, p 104. I thank Adam Meuse and Carlena Kirkpatrick for translation from the Spanish of this and the following quotes from García-Diego's book.

14. Klaus Maurice, Otto Mayr, eds., The Clockwork Universe: German Clocks and Automata 1550-1650 (New York: Neale Watson Academic Publications, 1980) p 170.

15. García-Diego, p 109. "If Charles V or Philip II had made the request, [Turriano] would have modeled [the monk's] features at least with a certain spirituality."

16. García-Diego, p LXI, fig 6.10.

17. Leopold von Ranke, preface, Geschichten der romanischen und germanischen Volker von 1494 bis 1535 [History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations . . .], written in 1824. Sämmtliche Werke, vol. 33 (Leipzig: 1868-1890) p vii. "History has had assigned to it the office of judging the past and of instructing the present for the benefit of the future ages. To such high offices the present work does not presume: it seeks only to show what actually happened." Translation from Leopold von Ranke, The Secret of World History, Selected Writings on the Art and Science of History, ed. and trans. Roger Wines (New York: Fordham University Press, 1981).

18. José A. García-Diego, Juanelo Turriano, Charles V's Clockmaker, The Man and His Legend, trans. Charles David Ley (Sussex: Antiquarian Horological Society; Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1986).

19. The Fundación, according to its recent website, preserves García-Diego's library, publishes papers on the history of engineering, produces facsimile editions of historical scientific manuscripts, and promotes the protection and reconstruction of historical engineering works as cultural monuments. The website address is

20. When I contacted Prof. Villalon, at the University of Cincinnati, for permission to quote from his account of Don Carlos' illness, I learned that he had written several subsequent papers on the life of Diego de Alcalá: "San Diego de Alcalá and the Politics of Saint-Making in Counter-Reformation Europe" in The Catholic Historical Review LXXXIII.4 (October, 1997): pp 691-715; and "Conflicting Views on Sainthood and the Canonization of Diego de Alcalá: A Working Paper" presented at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Toronto, Canada in October, 1998, and available on Villalon's website, Wire Paladin In addition, he generously made available to me his just-completed paper "The Miracle Book of San Diego de Alcalá, or, the Fifteenth Century Failure to Canonize the First Counter-Reformation Saint," forthcoming from Mediterranean Studies. My sketch of Brother Diego's life, drawn initially from the Bibliotheca Sanctorum vol. IV (Rome: Città Nuova Editrice, 1995) pp 605-9, has been deeply informed by Villalon's work. Passages here on Diego's illiteracy, and on the fifteenth-century attempt at canonization, come from Villalon's "The Miracle Book . . ." See also Thomas E. Case, La historia de San Diego de Alcalá. Su vida, su canonización y su legado [bilingual edition in Spanish and English], (Alcalá de Henares: Universidad de Alcalá, 1998).

21. Villalon, "The Miracle Book . . ."

22. Villalon, "Putting Don Carlos Together Again . . ." pp 361-2.

23. Villalon, "Putting Don Carlos Together Again . . ." p 362.

24. Among the recognized historians whose works have included accounts of Turriano are Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, The Cloister Life of the Emperor Charles V, 4th ed. (London: John C. Nimmo, 1891); Ernst von Bassermann-Jordan, Alte Uhren und Ihre Meister [Old Clocks and Their Masters], (Leipzig: Verlag Wilhelm Diebener G.M.B.H., 1926); Enrico Morpurgo, Dizionario degli orologiai italiani (1300-1880) (Rome: Edizioni "La Clessidra," 1950); Ernest L. Edwardes, Weight-Driven Chamber Clocks of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Altrincham: John Sherratt and Son, 1965); Hans von Bertele and Erwin Neumann, Die Kaisermonument-Uhr, Monographie einer historisch bedeutungsvollen Figurenuhr aus der Spätzeit Kaiser Karls V. (1500-1588) [Monograph of a Historically Significant Figure Clock from the Time of Emperor Charles V . . .], (Lucerne: Buchdruckerei Keller & Co. AG, 1965); and Silvio A. Bedini, who is cited below.

25. Silvio A. Bedini and Francis R. Maddison, Mechanical Universe: The Astrarium of Giovanni De' Dondi (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1966) pp 56-8; and Silvio A. Bedini, "The Role of Automata in the History of Technology," Technology and Culture 5 (1964): p 32. My gratitude to David Todd for introducing me to Silvio Bedini's superb work. I have depended heavily on it.

26. García-Diego places Turriano's birth date in 1511.

27. Bedini and Maddison p 37. The authors quote the great Girolamo Cardano, De subtilitate [. . .] (Lyons: 1554) pp 611-12, who concludes a description of Turriano's clock, saying ". . . so that the machine really depicts the whole universe."

28. Ambrosio de Morales, Las antigüedades de las ciudades de España (Madrid: 1575) pp 91-3; quoted by Bedini and Maddison p 40.

29. Bedini and Maddison p 38, note 120.

30. García-Diego, Juanelo Turriano p 65.

31. Bedini and Maddison p 57.

32. Stirling-Maxwell p 180. Famianus Strada, De Bello Belgico [. . .] ab excessu Caroli V imp. [. . .] ad an. MDXC [Concerning the Belgian War . . . from the abdication of the Emperor Charles V . . . to the year 1590], 2 vols. (Rome, 1632-47). Translated into English in 1650 by Sir Robert Stapylton, the passage can be found on p 7 of Book 1:

For often, when the Cloth was taken away after dinner, he brought upon the board little armed figures of Horfe and Foot, fome beating Drums, others founding Trumpets, and divers of them charging one another with their Pikes. Sometimes he fent wooden fparrows out of his chamber into the Emperours Dining-room, that would flie round, and back again; the Superiour of the Monaftery, who came in by accident, fufpecting him for a Conjurer.

And thus the scene is reset by successive generations of historians, from Famianus Strada to William Stirling-Maxwell, on to later versions such as Ernest L. Edwardes' in his 1965 Weight Driven Chamber Clocks, p 100, (see above note 24). By the time Bedini recreates it, it is tradition speaking. García-Diego in his turn quotes Strada too, calling it "a short passage full for wonders."

33. García-Diego, Los relojes y autómatas p 108.

34. Stirling-Maxwell p 444. Comparison here with the Jewish Golem is irresistible.

35. Morales p 93; quoted by García-Diego, Los relojes y autómatas pp 99-100.

36. Bedini and Maddison p 57.

37. Très importante collection de tableaux Espagnols du XIIIe au XVIIIe siècle [. . .], catalog, (Geneva: 1976) pp 83-4.

38. Copies of letters and engravings referred to in this paragraph are among documents from the Registrar's Office of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

39. The information on the Munich monk comes from Peter Frieß, "Restaurierung einer Automatenfigur," Alte Uhren und moderne Zeitmessung 4 (August, 1988): pp 40-50. For the Budapest figure, I thank curator Ágnes Prékopa, formerly of the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, for providing me with information via private correspondence. A detailed account of the restoration of this figure, published by the two conservators who performed the work, is: Katalin Soós and Jenö Rácz, "Eine Automatenfigur in Budapest," Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung 4 (1990): pp 207-214.

40. One can even hear a recording of it over the internet from the Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences:

41. A serious comparison would require determining, as with any sculpture, whether or not these carved components had suffered repair or restoration in the intervening centuries—repair that might have significantly altered their original appearances. Studying the recent restoration records available for each figure (see above note 39), I find that the Munich figure is listed as showing signs of evident prior repair and repainting of the head. The Budapest figure is described as arriving in the museum collection with the head in good condition, with no comment on the likelihood of its having been repainted. The photographs of this head show a face surprisingly clean and bright for a 400 year old object, one described as being damaged in other respects. Both figures, at purchase, had missing hands or fingers, and these have been recarved in recent restoration. The Smithsonian monk by contrast shows no sign of significant alteration to either body or mechanism, and only the garment, cross and rosary are more recent. The painted face is cracked and peeling, but David Todd has identified the paint as demonstrating full age. On all points, one longs to bring these three figures together in one laboratory for a more detailed comparison. That all three have appeared only in this century, and without documents or provenance, would render a close comparison all the more welcome. Because automata have been classified as machines and not works of art, they have received one kind of analytic attention at the expense of another. Could these carved faces now earn the kind of analysis of style available for, say, Renaissance wood sculpture?

42. The three other ladies are: a very extensively reconstructed lute player, smaller in height (34 cm.), whose iron clockwork is dated to 1550, in the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris; another smaller lute player in the Smithsonian Institution whose clockwork is of brass, this one dated to 1600; and the clockwork only (also brass and also dated 1600) of a lute player in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, which has been given a head, arms, etc. in the last century. Note the dates of the last two: because of their brass works they must be considered to be later technology, for the metallurgical development of the brass alloy as a non-corrosive, very machinable preference to iron was only then becoming affordable.

43. But she is described in 1926 by Ernst von Bassermann-Jordan, Alte Uhren pp 66-9. "The doll is old Austrian private property, having been inherited from the Netherlands." (p 67). And interestingly, she is also described and pictured in Alfred Chapuis and Edouard Gélis, Le Monde des Automates 2 vols. (Paris: 1928, reprinted Geneva: Editions Slatkine, 1984) pp 215-17. My thanks to Dr. Rudolf Distelberger of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, for correspondence about this automaton. She may be seen on the Museum's website:

44. The choice of a linear or circular movement path is mentioned in Chapuis and Gélis, vol 2, p 215.

45. A partial list:
1988: Peter Frieß p 42
1982: García-Diego, Los relojes y autómatas pp 99-100
1966: Bedini and Maddison p 57
1965: Edwardes pp 99-100
1926: Bassermann-Jordan p 68
1891: Stirling-Maxwell pp 179-180

46. Morales p 93; translated from the old Spanish and quoted by García-Diego, Los relojes y autómatas pp 99-100. This English translation in turn, from García-Diego, Juanelo Turriano, Charles V's Clockmaker p 101. A tercia, about 11 inches, is one-third of a vara, or rod, a Spanish linear measure of .84 meter.

47. Since the English edition of García-Diego's book in 1986, Peter Frieß's 1988 article on the Munich monk, and the Soós/Rácz article on the Budapest figure in 1990, there is a more recent comparison, this one difficult to obtain as it is an unpublished Master's Thesis: Adelheid von Herz, "Androiden des 16. Jahrhunderts" Universität Hamburg, 1990.

48. Bedini, "The Role of Automata . . ." pp 29-30, note 15. See also Ernest L. Edwardes, Weight-Driven Chamber Clocks pp 1-69; and Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers (New York: Random House, 1983) pp 26-53.

49. Alexandre Moret, "Les statues d'Égypte," Revue de Paris (May, 1914): pp 130 et seq.; as quoted in Alfred Chapuis, Edmond Droz, Automata: A Historical and Technological Study (Neuchâtel: Editions du Griffon, 1958) p 15. This book, together with the original two-volume edition in French by Alfred Chapuis and Edouard Gélis, Le Monde des Automates (see above note 43), constitute the most comprehensive history in print of the automaton in all its myriad forms. To my mind, the most elegant short history of the automaton is the above noted work by Silvio Bedini, "The Role of Automata in the History of Technology." A recent volume by Horst Bredekamp The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine, trans. Allison Brown (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 1995) initiates a welcome and broad multi-disciplinary interpretation of the automaton in the European Kunstkammer tradition.

50. A story made popular in the book Longitude by Dava Sobel (New York: Walker, 1995). King Philip's ultimate heir to the Spanish throne, Philip III, inaugurated the offer of a prize in 1598 to whomever could solve this problem, a prize only bestowed 175 years later by the British Parliament to the clockmaker John Harrison.

51. Bedini, "The Mechanical Clock and the Scientific Revolution," Maurice, Mayr, eds. The Clockwork Universe pp 19-26.

52. Peter Honig, "History and Mathematical Analysis of the Fusee," Maurice, Mayr, eds. The Clockwork Universe pp 114-20:

The solution was developed in the form of the combination of a cord or chain [. . .] with a sort of cone called a fusee. Qualitatively it works in the following manner. When the clock is unwound, the chain or cord is wrapped on the outside of the mainspring barrel with one end of the cord anchored in a slot in its side; the other end is anchored in the fusee. As the timepiece is wound, the chain becomes wrapped along the spiral grooves of the fusee as it is unwrapped from the spring barrel. While this is happening, the tension in the chain increases as a result of the growth in spring force. Since the fusee is the first member of the gear train, the torque or twist which it develops must be constant if timing is to be accurate. As the tension in the chain increases, the radius of the fusee where the chain makes contact decreases to compensate theoretically for force changes. A lot of force acting on a small radius is equivalent to a little force on a large radius. That is why the fusee possesses its unusual shape. (Honig, p.114)

Fusees were first made of wood, in a painstaking trial and error method in which the grooves were carved into the surface of a cone blank, following a gradually diminishing radius calibrated to the successive points of wind of the mainspring to be used. One would imagine it could be a regular conical path, but the metallurgy of a spring generates a more complex torque geometry, as reflected in the fusee's typical arced profile.

53. Bedini, "The Role of Automata . . ." p 41.

54. For an interesting discussion of the cam as an ur-computer memory, see James M. Williams, "Antique Mechanical Computers, Part 1: Early Automata," BYTE Publications, Inc. 3.7 (July 1978).

55. The possibility that the monk was made not on the occasion of Don Carlos' recovery, but instead on the occasion of the 1588 canonization of the friar who cured him, deserves consideration. This idea emerged in a conversation between Todd and myself in the museum cafeteria one day. Todd had spoken before about pushing the date forward a bit, because of the several later automata made of brass on a similar design, and because contemporary clockmaking practices would bear it out. I quote my own day's notes from April 17, 1998:

At lunch we talked about San Diego. 1588 for his canonization . . . and David said "1588, hmmm. that is a neat year," and I say, why? He says he likes the later date for the automaton, puts him closer to the others: 20 or 25 years is a long time, a whole generation. Perhaps he was made on the occasion of the canonization, rather than the miracle itself? We'd lose Turriano, who dies in 1585, but gain the saint! And it is interesting to think of a votive offering and commemorative object made on that very triumphant date . . . Maybe not made for Charles or commissioned by Philip?

South Germany must continue to be considered a potential alternative to Spain for the manufacture of any of the automata mentioned here. Augsburg and Nuremberg were important centers of clockmaking development in the sixteenth century. Traffic between the lands of the Austrian Habsburgs and the Spanish holdings at the time of Philip II—all earlier united under Charles V—was steady enough that it may even be that the monk was made in Spain and Germany, or otherwise commissioned in Spain and constructed in Germany. David Todd agrees that this is quite conceivable. Moreover, the more we think about these complex automata, the more possible it seems that the wood carving was produced by one kind of artisan, the clockwork by another, certainly the clothing by still another.

56. An outstanding recent essay, on the imitation of the sincerity of prayer in both Church and Theater in the 16th century, is by Ramie Targoff, "The Performance of Prayer: Sincerity and Theatricality in Early Modern England," Representations 60 (Fall 1997): pp 49-69. It would be fascinating to know what she would say about an automaton, rather than a human actor, engaging in this holy deceit.

57. Teresita Fernandez, friend and colleague, found the address for me, while she was a resident at the American Academy in Rome, in August, 1999.

58. The biographical sketch in this paragraph is based on information published in: Vincenzo Criscuolo, ed., Quarant'anni di servizio nell'Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini (1953-1993): Isidoro da Villapadierna, Mariano D'Alatri, e Servus Gieben (Rome: Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 1993) pp 69-84.

59. Reading over this letter, able at last to picture some of the events preceding the Smithsonian purchase, I wondered once more about the Geneva transaction. From whose hands had the monk originally come onto the market? There had been no mention, as there is, for example, for the Vienna figure, of a prior collection. These are the mysterious proprieties of the market itself, which can so mock the attempt to trace back the journey an object has travelled through time.

60. The photograph is reproduced in the book Iconografia di S. Giacomo della Marca nell'ambiente napoletano lungo i secoli by Daniele Capone, (Naples: S. Francesco al Vomero, 1976) p 39. San Diego's age at death was approximately 63. There are, apparently, no written records of a death mask having been made from either corpse; moreover, I've found other photographs of this mask that look very different, and indeed quite toothless. I think it must be a trick of light, yet there are some strong similarities to the carved head of the automaton, especially the nose, ears, and structure of the skull around the eyes.

61. I ultimately sent a draft of this paper to L. J. Andrew Villalon for his opinion. It was he who pointed out the parallel between the automaton's arm and the saint's arm.

62. In fact, this definition was first formed by Ernst Jentsch in "Zur Psychologie des Unheimlichen," Psychiatrisch-Neurologische Wochenschrift 22 (1906): p 197. See Robert Plank, "The Golem and the Robot," Literature and Psychology XV.1 (Winter 1965): p 25. The Freud essay is "The 'Uncanny'" in On Creativity and the Unconscious, ed. Benjamin Nelson (New York: Harper, 1958) pp 122-161, see p 132.

63. I thank my husband, Carlton Newton, for this insight into how such a question might be weighted.

64. Susan Verdi Webster, Art and Ritual in Golden-Age Spain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998) p 167. I thank Fredrika H. Jacobs for pointing me towards this book.

65. Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (New York: Scribner's, 1971) p 33.


Let the semen of a man putrify by itself in a sealed curcurbite (gourd glass) with the highest putrefaction of the venter equinus (horse dung) for forty days, or until it begins at last to live, move, and be agitated, which can easily be seen. After this time it will be in some degree like a human being, but nevertheless, transparent and without body. If now, after this, it be every day nourished and fed cautiously and prudently with the arcanum of human blood, and kept for forty weeks in the perpetual and equal heat of a venter equinus, it becomes, thenceforth a true and living infant, having all the members of a child that is born from a woman, but much smaller. This we call a homunculus; and it should be afterwards educated with the greatest care and zeal, until it grows and begins to display intelligence. Now, this is one of the greatest secrets which God has revealed to mortal and fallible man.

Arthur Edward Waite, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus Theophrastus Bombast, of Hohenheim, Called Paracelsus The Great (London: James Elliott, 1894) p 124. I first encountered Paracelsus' recipe in John Cohen's wonderful book Human Robots in Myth and Science (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1966). But there has been debate about whether the work De Natura Rerum is authentic to Paracelcus. Its attribution is discussed in William Newman's recent excellent essay "The Homunculus and His Forebears: Wonders of Art and Nature" in Anthony Grafton and Nancy Siraisi eds., Natural Particulars: Nature and the Disciplines in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999).

67. Marguerite Yourcenar, The Abyss, trans. Grace Frick and the author (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976).

68. Cohen, Chapter 3 "A Man-made Man," pp 36-49.

69. Plank ("The Golem and the Robot"). I must recommend this entire essay as perhaps the most elegantly presented case for the links between the alchemy, folklore, and technology of artificial beings. See pp 17-19 for his discussion of Goethe's homunculus. For a synopsis of the Faust homunculus scene itself, see Walter Kaufmann, Goethe's Faust (New York: Anchor Books Edition, Doubleday, 1963) pp 35-37.

70. Villalon, "Putting Don Carlos Together Again . . ." pp 348-9.

71. Prescott p 437, note 16.  


Table of Contents | Table of Figures | Reading Clockwork Prayer

return to top