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20 December 2017 / leggypeggy

Peacock Clock is a true show-stopper

Peacock Clock

Peacock Clock with tail fully opened. Photo from museum video

Male peacocks are one of the world’s showiest birds. They love to show their colours, strut their stuff and display their magnificent tails.

And just when we thought we’d seen the flashiest and showiest of all peacocks in Australia and India, we toured the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, and encountered the Peacock Clock.

This magnificent bird takes clockwork, sculpture, gold work and innovation to a whole new level. Just after 1pm on the day we visited, I followed the museum’s map to find the larger-than-life bird sitting majestically in its glass case.

As the photos show, I examined this automaton from every angle and read all the information about it.

Here’s some of what I learned.

Peacock Clock

The main attraction—the peacock

A bit about the clock’s history
Although unsigned, the clock is believed to be the work of James Cox, English clock maker, mechanic, jeweller and the most celebrated manufacturer of curiosities of this sort. Recent research confirms this as being his work.

The clock originally belonged to Prince Potemkin, who bought it disassembled. In 1791, he asked a gifted Russian mechanic, Ivan Kulibin, to assemble it and put it in motion. The mechanic took a year to get around to the job (obviously you couldn’t get reliable help back then either). By then, Potemkin had died, and Empress Catherine II bought the clock. In turn, the mechanism passed to her son and successor, Emperor Paul I.

The clock had a major restoration in 1995.

Peacock Clock, Russia

The peacock in its cage

The challenge to restore
Back in 1995, this poor bird might as well have been on the chopping block for a holiday meal. The entire clock was filthy, rollers and gears were worn out, organ pipes couldn’t produce a sound, chains were torn, the pendulum suspension was broken, and many parts had been wrongly assembled on previous restorations.

Once they figured out the clock’s construction was based on modules, the restorers were able to focus on the independent parts. But the clock still presented a challenge, with many of the fixes requiring novel and unusual approaches.

Today the clock’s mechanism is regularly attended to and, if I read the slightly disjointed English right, it is wound weekly.

Peacock clock with mushroom

The control mushroom is in the middle of the pic. Look closely and you can just see the dragonfly

What the clock does
The movement of the clock is hidden inside the large mushroom in the centre of the setting. The mushroom has two dials—one shows the hour in Roman numerals and the other shows the minutes in Arabic numerals.

A dragonfly on top of the mushroom plays the part of the second hand. A carillon (a train of bells) chimes the hours and the quarters. Three coiled spring movements control the owl, the peacock and the cock.

The owl moves first, twitching its eyes and raising a wing (the English translation says it raises a ‘paw’). The bells on the cage around it tinkle. Then the peacock raises its head regally and opens its tail for a moment. Then the cock crows several times. 

Cock on the Peacock Clock

Cock on the Peacock Clock

What I saw
Cripes, I wish I could say I saw the clock perform its whole routine. I was there around 1pm and saw nothing. I figured I’d missed it, so I went back about 1:50pm and waited patiently. I even managed to get a great close-up position and some good close-up photos.

But 2pm came and went with nothing. Darn. I found a guide and used hand signals and raised eyebrows to ask about the clock. Her return hand signals (tapping the number 7 on my watch and holding up one finger) told me that the clock would perform once at 7pm (the museum was open until 9). I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean 2:35 or 1:07!

But I did see a video of what happens when the clock does its magic. It’s a looping video and I watched it several times. Completely magical and magnificent.  One of the pics here is a still I took from the video. Maybe someday I’ll see the clock perform in real-time. Maybe someday you’ll see it too.

Stay tuned for a full post on this amazing museum.

The caged owl on the Peacock Clock

The caged owl on the Peacock Clock (you can see the cock’s tail on the right)

80 Comments

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  1. suzlearnsfrench / Dec 20 2017 10:01 pm

    How very cool!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. amindfultravellerblog / Dec 20 2017 10:28 pm

    I have never seen anything quite like it….so majestic! Merry Christmas Peggy. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 20 2017 10:33 pm

      Me too! I’d never seen anything like it before. Totally amazing. Happy Christmas to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Vicki / Dec 20 2017 10:47 pm

    Wow! Amazing, Peggy. Shame you didn’t get to hear/see the whole thing in action.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 20 2017 10:49 pm

      I know, but we couldn’t hang around for five hours, but I was glad I saw the video. Always a chance it wouldn’t have worked at 7pm.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dreamtemples / Dec 20 2017 10:59 pm

    A peacock,a rooster and an owl all in gold and part of an intriguing clock mechanism.The ingenuity of the man who created it is amazing! A Happy Christmas to you Peggy!
    Sheela

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 7:11 am

      Thank you, Sheela. Happy Christmas to you too.

      Like

  5. Simone / Dec 20 2017 11:28 pm

    I see the peacok clock some years ago at the Hermitage Museum! Wonderful!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 11:39 am

      I’m so glad you had the chance to see it too.

      Like

  6. beetleypete / Dec 20 2017 11:48 pm

    I have been to The Hermitage twice; in the 1970s and later in the 80s. I still only managed to see a fraction of the exhibits, and certainly don’t recall this amazing clock.
    Have a great upside-down Christmas, Peggy!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 7:16 am

      Maybe it wasn’t in the Hermitage in the 1970s and 80s. Thanks for your good wishes. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. pvcann / Dec 21 2017 12:15 am

    Such a wonderful creation, never seen anything like it, thanks for sharing, and what a great story.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Robert Parker / Dec 21 2017 12:52 am

    Incredible. Like something out of a fairytale.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 7:17 am

      Ah yes, definitely something out of a fairytale.

      Like

  9. Andrew Petcher / Dec 21 2017 1:54 am

    I visited the museum and saw that clock – quite stunning.
    In the animal kingdom males are generally the show-offs but when it comes to humans the females will spend several times more on clothes and adornments than the males?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. MichaelStephenWills / Dec 21 2017 2:22 am

    Image that….you are so lucky to experience this wonder. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. dinosaursdonkeysandms / Dec 21 2017 2:32 am

    This is stunning. 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year! 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  12. derrickjknight / Dec 21 2017 3:11 am

    Quite amazing. Well recorded

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Brian Lageose / Dec 21 2017 3:52 am

    Fascinating piece, once again. I would have had a hard time leaving the museum before 7pm, even with the risk of the clock not working even then… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Popping Wheelies / Dec 21 2017 4:49 am

    Absolutely amazing. Thank you for your wonderful photos and descriptions. Where to next? St. Petersburg just moved higher on our list. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 7:46 am

      You are most welcome. Vietnam next to see the daughter who has been posted there. Merry Christmas to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. toutparmoi / Dec 21 2017 6:42 am

    I was thrilled to see this post. I’ve just been attempting to envisage a 16th century mechanical clock/organ, which chimed the hours (24), played bells, and was decorated with mechanical figurines. It also played music – of its own accord, or by a musician.

    Only the briefest description of it remains, left by Thomas Dallam in his diary of his trip to Constantinople to deliver it to the Sultan. Understandably, he was more interested in writing about what he saw on his trip.

    I doubt that organ contained as much gold work as this, but even so…

    There were probably others made over the centuries that haven’t survived.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 8:17 am

      Thank you for mentioning Thomas Dallam. I’ve now read a bit about him. Such a pity we can never really know some of the grand things created in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. thewonderer86 / Dec 21 2017 7:35 am

    What an amazing thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Midlife Dramas in Pyjamas / Dec 21 2017 8:21 am

    That is ABSOLUTELY stunning! What a treat to see your photos 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 11:16 am

      We felt so lucky to see the clock. Such a magnificent piece.

      Like

  18. lexklein / Dec 21 2017 8:44 am

    Kudos to you for taking the time to study this magnificent thing, do some research, and present it all to us with such clarity. I, clearly the lazier traveler, circled the cage and the bird several times, oohed and aahed, and then moved on to the other ten zillion things I was trying to see in one afternoon at the Hermitage!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 11:19 am

      Aw thanks. It was the video of the clock in action that really got my attention. If I hadn’t seen that, I might have just oohed and aahed and moved on. One day in the Hermitage would never be enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lexklein / Dec 21 2017 2:50 pm

        So true – not sure a month would be enough! Amazing place.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. vagabondurges / Dec 21 2017 6:19 pm

    That’s magnificent!!

    And interesting about the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in the Arabic counterparts; the clock in St Mark’s Square in Venice does the same thing, symbolizing Venice’s place at the nexus of the western world and the eastern. That clock is older, I wonder if James Cox was inspired by it….?

    Fantastic post, thank you! I look forward to the next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 21 2017 7:31 pm

      Thanks so much. The clock really is magnificent, and I liked the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals. I didn’t know about the clock in St Mark’s Square, so really appreciate you pointing it out. Stay tuned.

      Like

  20. The Year I Touched My Toes / Dec 21 2017 7:36 pm

    One word. Classic. Lots of meanings.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. poshbirdy / Dec 21 2017 11:28 pm

    What an amazing creation. Have to feel sorry for Prince Potemkin, who didn’t get to witness it in full

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 22 2017 7:29 am

      Yes, I feel sorry for him too, but very grateful that he started the efforts to save it.

      Like

  22. Brenda / Dec 21 2017 11:47 pm

    Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Dec 22 2017 6:48 am

    Craftsmanship and beauty, meshed to create a wonder of the world – enchanting. I’ve never heard of this clock, Peggy, thank you so much for sharing your photos and story. I have a book of art at the Hermitage, will have to lug it out of the bookcase, it’s big, and see if I can find the clock.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 22 2017 7:31 am

      I hadn’t heard of it either and even when I saw it referred to on the museum map, I didn’t know what to expect. Blew me away. Let me know if it’s in your book and if there’s any more about its history.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Alison and Don / Dec 22 2017 6:10 pm

    Wow! I was totally fascinated by this story. And of course I want to see it myself now. It sounds amazing. I love that the world is full of beautiful and creative things. This one sounds really special.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 22 2017 10:54 pm

      Oh you must go! You can visit St Petersburg (visa-free) from a couple of places in Finland. Much more economical that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Osyth / Dec 22 2017 7:58 pm

    Incredible. The clock in all it’s glory and it’s back story. I do hope that Prince Potemkin didn’t die of boredom waiting for his prize to be assembled. Thank you for sharing this extraordinary object …. artifact …. I haven’t the right word to describe singularly something so unsingularly eye-boggling!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Dec 22 2017 10:57 pm

      It is gobsmackingly amazing. I doubt that Potemkin died of boredom. I could live on fumes just watching it lie in pieces on the floor. And yes, there are no words to describe it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth / Dec 23 2017 12:17 am

        We made the most flying of visits to Saint Petersburg in 2014 and decided against even attempting l’Hermitage and instead went out to the Peterhof since it was the official first weekend of summer and therefore the fountains working rather than being blanketed for the bitter long winter. I intend to go back one day and when I do will certainly spend a day (or a week) in the Hermitage …. I will dit bonjour au M. Paon for you and his merry band of friends including that beautiful dragonfly ….

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Dec 23 2017 9:43 am

        I reckon you’d better set aside a week for l’Hermitage. Try to visit M Paon daily at 7pm. Wish I’d taken a close-up of the dragonfly.

        Like

  26. Author: Sadaf Siddiqi / Dec 22 2017 8:42 pm

    Amazing. What a beauty!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. dfolstad58 / Dec 23 2017 9:33 am

    Very curious and I enjoyed your report.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. milliethom / Dec 23 2017 10:44 pm

    A stunning exhibit and your photos of it are fabulous. The detail on the clock is beautiful, right down to the control mushroom and the dragonfly on top! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history behind this curiosity, too. Thank you for an excellent post, Peggy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 23 2017 10:51 pm

      Oh Millie, thanks so very much. The clock is an exquisite item. Wish I could have found out more about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. chattykerry / Dec 24 2017 3:22 am

    Wow! That is fantastic. Your photographs really detail the intricacy. I didn’t know, until recently, that peacocks are sometimes considered unlucky. I think you are only unlucky if you have a live one living next door to you…😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 24 2017 8:00 am

      You’re right, Kerry. I wouldn’t want a peacock living next door to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Deb / Dec 24 2017 12:09 pm

    Wow that is the most elaborate clock and not easy to say…Peacock Clock…when you started mentioning the other animals it almost sounded like a joke…so there was this peacock, owl and cock sitting in a bar….hehe!! Truly magnificent…it’s a shame you didn’t get to see it perform live, it must be amazing! You described it very well though, we certainly got the essence of what happens. Merry Christmas Peggy to you Poor John and all your family and friends!! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Dec 24 2017 7:37 pm

      Oh Deb, you made me laugh—a peacock, owl and a cock in a bar!!!! Thanks for your good wishes. Hope you, your family and your friends all have a fabulous Christmas too.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. adventuredawgs / Dec 26 2017 3:12 pm

    Mind Blown.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. jeanleesworld / Dec 26 2017 10:18 pm

    Yet another fascinating bit of living history that could inspire a hundred stories…just, wow.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Alexander Lautsyus / Dec 29 2017 8:18 am

    Lucky you to see how the clock is working. By my visits there it was dead.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. efge63 / Jan 17 2018 10:23 pm

    Tommorow I will post this beautiful clock to my blog!! Thank you for sharing!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jan 17 2018 10:28 pm

      Oh wow, thanks for the video and the reblog.

      Liked by 1 person

      • efge63 / Jan 17 2018 10:36 pm

        Υοu give me so many ideas and new stuff for searching !!! Thank you again!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks

  1. Hermitage Museum includes a church | Where to next?
  2. Peacock Clock και έρωτας μεγάλος | ΕfiSoul63

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