Clock, 1700-1850
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© Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

Yellow Room 

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Clock, 1700-1850

European mechanical clocks were introduced to Japan during a brief period of Jesuit influence (c.1550-c.1630) and formed the basis of early Japanese lantern clocks like this.  Early period clocks were owned only by Samurai and were treated more as objects of amusement or novelty.

The Japanese temporal time system, which suited the predominantly agricultural society, was based on the Chinese time measurement and calendar, dividing the day into 12 hours, six of which are proportional to daylight and six to darkness. The Russell-Cotes clock embodies this system: a single hand remains stationary while the Warikoma dial rotates clockwise, counting down two sets of numbers marked from 9 – 4 using the zodiac names of the hours.

These numerals are adjustable to accommodate the variable time intervals according to season, and a ‘clock doctor’ would have been employed by the owner to move the weights twice daily and the dial numerals once every fortnight to ensure accuracy. This system of temporal measurement remained the norm in Japan until January 1873, when European time and the European calendar were introduced.

The overall construction of this clock is typical of the midperiod of Japanese clock making (c.1700-1800), although modified over time.

This Japanese lantern clock is not only a beautiful example of historic craft techniques and interpretations of time, but also represents a complex cultural philosophy combining Zen Buddhism, Shinto, and wabi-sabi, the beauty of imperfection and impermanence. Rather than being disregarded as broken, the later additions and technological advancements enhanced the original clock. With the Meiji Restoration, 1868, traditional ideals were replaced by westernisation, and many Japanese clocks were discarded or sold to collectors such as Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes.



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