SUNDIALS IN ART

THE AMBASSADORS . HANS HOLBEIN . 1533 . NATIONAL GALLERY

The Ambassadors – detail . Holbein . National Gallery

NICOLAS KRATZER . HANS HOLBEIN . 1528 . LOUVRE

Nicholas Kratzer . Holbein . Louvre . OS

Nicholas Kratzer (ca.1487 – 1550) was a German mathematician, astronomer, and horologist. He was appointed as astronomer to King Henry VIII. He is depicted with the tools of his trade, working on the construction of a polyhedral dial. On the shelf behind his head is a cylinder dial.

Nicholas Kratzer . Holbein . Louvre . Cylinder Dial
Nicholas Kratzer . Holbein . Polyhedral Dial

Kratzer was a prolific dial maker including a portable dial for Cardinal Wolsey, now in the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. Among his creations were at least three sundials made in Oxford, where he had a connection with Corpus Christi College, presumably as a mathematician. None still exists.

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI – BEATRIX BEATA

Rossetti’s grief for the death of his wife Elizabeth Siddal inspired this interpretation of Dante Alighieri’s loss of Beatrice Portinari. This version is in the Tate Gallery; there were many others in various formats, both contemporary and later. The symbolism in the painting (blood red dove; Ponte Vecchio etc) includes a prominently placed sundial. According to the Tate’s account of the iconography, “Beatrice’s death, which occurred at nine o’clock on 9th June 1290, is foreseen in the sundial which casts its shadow over the number nine“. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Beata Beatrix, ca 1864-70.

COARAZE . PROVENCE . FRANCE

LES CADRANS SOLAIRES DE COARAZE

NINE SUNDIALS CREATED BY ARTISTS FOR A SMALL MOUNTAIN VILLAGE

Les Cadrans Solaires de Coaraze . Provence – detail of a ceramic dial by Jean Cocteau, one of 9 artists in the project

PETER FLÖTNER: HUMAN SUNDIAL

Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum . P Flötner . Die menschliche Sonnenuhr

The Human Sundial is by any standards (once seen) an unforgettable depiction of the measurement of time by the sun. Flötner’s woodcut of 1540 celebrates unarguably the most extreme example of harnessing the sun’s power to determine time using a gnomon located where the sun don’t ever shine. I bought a watch after seeing this.

RIJKSMUSEUM DIALS

Two women with a sundial . Jan Luyken . 1704 – Rijksmuseum
Angel and child with sundial . Boëtius Adamsz . 1624 – Rijksmuseum
Kenelm Digby . Sphere . Robert van Voerst, after Anthony van Dyck, 1627 – 1636

SUNDIALS AS ALBUM COVER ART

ALBRECHT DÜRER: Melencolia 1 (1514)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: The winged personification of Melancholy, seated dejectedly with her head resting on her hand, holds a caliper and is surrounded by other tools associated with geometry, the one of the seven liberal arts that underlies artistic creation–and the one through which Dürer, probably more than most artists, hoped to approach perfection in his own work.

The sundial in this large etching is the smallest of the ‘tools associated with geometry’, a small feature above the large hourglass. It’s span marked by roman numerals is from 8 to 4.