Officine Panerai in partnership with the 'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore' proudly presents the newly restored mechanism of the Paolo Uccello's clock located inside 'Il Duomo di Firenze'. This magnificent clock that everyone that has been to 'Il Duomo' cannot forget as it is located right above the main door inside the church, was exquisitely designed and hand painted by Renaissance master painter and mathematician Paolo Uccello in 1433. Uccello, is very well known for his paintings across multiple churches in Florence including the 'Life of Saint Francis' at the church of 'Santa Trinita', the 'Annunciation' at 'Santa Maria Maggiore' and the 'Lives of the Church Fathers' at the abbey of 'San Miniato Al Monte' which is located on a hill above the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence from which we took the picture of Florence right below Paolo Uccello's portrait.
Set in the interior facade above the central door, in a space concealed from sight, the clock is one of the very few in the world which shows the time based on what is called the 'Italic Hours' system. The restoration, which has put the mechanism of the clock back in working order, was made possible thanks to the contribution of Officine Panerai, who has its own historic boutique just a few yards from the Duomo in the Archbishop’s Palace, facing the Baptistery. The Duomo in Florence, is one of the most iconic building in all Italy and a masterpiece of the Renaissance.
Paolo Uccello's clock inside 'Il Duomo di Firenze' is unique in the world not only because of its remarkable position and the painting of its dial but also because it keeps 'Italic Time'. This time measurement system is now a long gone system which in antiquity was known as 'Julian Time' —after Julius Caesar, who in 46 B.C. introduced the Julian Calendar developed by Sosigenes of Alexandria. Unlike modern dials, Italic Time —also known as 'Ave Maria' or 'Italian Time'— has a single hand moving around the dial in a anti-clockwise direction and where the 24th hour is not midnight but the hour of sunset, from which the counting of the hours starts. Therefore, the clock must be adjusted throughout the year so that the last hour of the day is always the hour of sunset. The clock dial painted by Uccello is decorated in the corners by four heads of what seems to be the four evangelists, 24 hours in Roman numerals in ascending order and it measures almost 7 meters —21 feet— in diameter. The clock features a beautiful and intricate hand that provides perfect contrast against the black center of the dial.
After years of use, constant resetting and environmental wear and tear, Officine Panerai generously donated the funds for a much needed, full restoration of the clock’s mechanism. 'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore' and Officine Panerai entrusted the painstaking restoration to two of the greatest experts in the field, Professor Andrea Palmieri and Professor Ugo Pancani, of the Centro Studi per il Restauro di Orologi of the I.S.I.S Leonardo da Vinci in Florence. Panerai is very proud for having restored the clock mechanism as Florence has been the spiritual home of Officine Panerai since its inception in 1860. Founded as a watchmaker’s shop on Florence’s Piazza del Duomo, Officine Panerai also served as the official supplier of precision instruments for the Italian Navy. The restoration, which has put the mechanism of the clock back in working order for the first time in many years, would not have been possible without the contribution of Officine Panerai.
The original mechanism of the clock was built in 1443 by the Florentine clockmaker Angelo di Niccolò but we do not have any information about how it operated: it was probably fitted with a system of weights and counter-weights, some of which have been found within the Duomo. A few decades after its construction, the mechanism needed some repairs. This task was entrusted to the Della Volpaia family of clockmakers and scientists : first in 1497 to Lorenzo —the creator of the famous Planetary Clock—and then to his son Camillo who rebuilt it almost completely between 1546 and 1547. Over the years, the clock was repaired several times until 1688 when the 'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore', inspired by the research carried out by Galileo and Huygens, decided to replace the old mechanism with a new one fitted with a pendulum. This ran until 1761 when the Florentine clockmaker Giuseppe Borgiacchi again replaced the mechanism with a new one which is still working today. It was then that Paolo Uccello’s dial was changed from 24 hours to 12 hours and the original hand was replaced. It was only 40 years ago that the clock was restored to its original appearance and characteristics, thanks to a restoration which exposed the magnificent original dial and restored the ancient operation of the mechanism with the hand which completed one turn in 24 hours, starting at the time of sunset and moving anti-clockwise.
In recent years further restoration has been needed to solve some problems with the mechanism which threatened the operation of the clock: the presence of harmful substances —a build-up of iron oxide and dirt—, deformation, deterioration and serious wear of the pivots of the shafts, the shaft holes, the anchor pallets and the pinions. The restoration started with the dismantling of the clock and an initial cleaning to remove the harmful substances. Then all the individual components were overhauled and finally the mechanism was reassembled and regulated. For over twenty years the weekly adjustment of the sunset time of the Florence Duomo clock and its winding have been the responsibility of two custodians of the Opera di Santa del Fiore, Lucio Bigi and Mario Mureddu, who have also written the only book on the subject. Before them, this task had been carried out by other members of the Opera throughout the centuries. In Florence 'Ave Maria Time' is marked by the sound of the bells of Giotto’s campanile which indicate the time six times during the day, three times in the morning at 7, 11:30 and 12:00 and three times in the afternoon at times which vary during the year: one hour before sunset, at sunset or XXIV hours, when the Ave Maria was recited or Vespers celebrated and one hour after sunset, the 'Hour of the night'. As Bigi and Mureddu wrote in their book , “The sound of the bells at XXIV hours was to warn people working in the fields to return home, before the gates of the city were closed. And the bells ringing at 11.30, 'the Hour of Mercy', indicated to the Fratelli della Compagnia that it was time to make their charitable rounds to the needy of the city.” Next time you are visiting Florence the cradle of Renaissance, make sure you stop by 'Il Duomo' to contemplate this amazing clock and then pay a visit to the historic Officine Panerai Firenze boutique just a few steps from there.
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