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Lorenzo della Volpaia manuscript

della Volpaia manuscript

Orologio dei Pianeti

Lorenzo della Volpaia (1446-1512) was an architect, a goldsmith, a mathematician and, above all, a clockmaker, who founded a dynasty of Florentine clockmakers and scientific-instrument makers that notably included his sons Camillo (1484-1560), Benvenuto (1486-1532) and Eufrosino (late 15th C. - 16th C.), as well as his nephew Girolamo (c. 1530-1614). He also participated in the competition for the façade of Santa Maria del Fiore. As clockmaker, he gained fame and honour with the construction of the Orologio dei Pianeti (Planetary Clock). The main purpose of planetary clocks is not direct timekeeping but rather to display the positions of the heavenly bodies relative to the Earth, in order to exactly determine astrological influences. The construction of such clocks required a considerable knowledge of astronomy, accurate computations, and machining skills. Initially commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492) as a gift to Mattia Corvino (1440-1490), the instrument was later donated to the Signoria to be placed in the Sala dell'Orologio (today Sala dei Gigli) in the Palazzo Vecchio. The clock was restored in 1560 by Lorenzo's nephew Girolamo. He was certainly in contact with Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who is quoted in Benvenuto's manuscript notebook, preserved in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. Leonardo mentions a water meter built for Bernardo Rucellai, but Lorenzo's boldest undertaking was the planetary clock. Lorenzo also took part in the discussions on the placement of Michelangelo's David: like Giuliano da Sangallo (1443-1516), he argued in favor of installing the statue in the Loggia dei Signori. His workshop in Via degli Albertinelli (later Via dell'Oriuolo) passed on to his sons, who kept it in operation for the entire sixteenth century.

A reconstruction of the Orologio dei Pianeti, the second of two versions, this one invented and built by Lorenzo della Volpaia in 1510, has been accomplished recently. Initially installed in the Sala dei Gigli in the Palazzo Vecchio, the clock was dismantled and destroyed in the seventeenth century. The reconstruction is based on the highly detailed data about the original clock in Della Volpaia's manuscripts. The clock has a finely decorated dial with a fixed hour circle bearing the signs of the Zodiac. The lesser disk, which rotates clockwise, has six openings. In five of these, the five planets then known—Saturn, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Mercury—rotate counter-clockwise. The sixth opening contains the Dragon, which displays the lunar nodes and eclipses. At the center, two superposed disks show the phases and ages of the Moon and the index of the Sun. The dial wheelwork, of unprecedented complexity, is arranged vertically on parallel planes. There are also a pair of globes—one celestial, the other terrestrial—and a sophisticated chime system. A single weight-driven motor drives the clock's incredibly varied movements.

Orologio notturno e solare, Girolamo della Volpaia, 1568, Firenze

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