The Dutch Connection

The Dutch Connection

fig. 13. Amsterdam longcase clock by Gerrit Knip. Collection Rembrandt Society, on loan to the Museum of the Dutch Clock, Zaandam.
fig. 14. Longcase clock by Gerrit Knip, detail of the dial.
(click on image to enlarge)

Appropriately this longcase clock is surmounted by an Atlas figure carrying the celestial globe, copied from the monumental sculpture by Arthus Quellinus for the Amsterdam Town Hall (currently the Royal Palace at Dam square). Knip is also known for a handsome large musical bracket clock in the museum in Utrecht.

Carillons and regional clocks.
The popularity of musical clocks is yet another characteristic of the country of ‘the singing bell towers’. The peak of the construction of turret carillons occurred between 1630 and 1670 with the clockmakers Jan Becker van Call, making musical turret clocks for, amongst others, the Town Hall of Delft and churches in Rotterdam and Darmstadt (Germany), and especially Jurriaan Spraeckel, making (or revising) clocks for at least eight major bell towers like the Utrecht Dom, the Bavo in Haarlem, the Martini-tower in Groningen, the New Church of Kampen, the cupola of the above mentioned Amsterdam townhall, as well as the Zuider, Wester and Old Church of Amsterdam, where the most distinguished Dutch composer and William Byrd contemporary, Jan Pietersz Sweelinck, played the organ. Bells for these clocks were cast by the Hemony family.

fig. 15. Stool clock by François de Mey of Amsterdam, with musical work. Collection Rembrandt Society.
fig. 16. Stool clock by François de Mey, detail of the movement. The maker’s signature is visible on the front piller stand.
(click on image to enlarge)

The oldest known Dutch domestic clock with musical work, made by François de Mey of Amsterdam, c.1685, is now in the museum in Zaandam (Figs 15 & 16). This brass wall clock resting on a wooden frame and demonstrating certain similarities to the lantern clock is also an exceptional example of the regional wallclock known as the stool clock (stoelklok). The baroque Zaan stool clock, representative for the villages along the river Zaan between Amsterdam and Alkmaar, known as the Zaan region, was made between approximately 1670 and 1740. A unique Zaan clock in the museum in Zaandam (and a recent acquisition) uses the weight of the movement itself as power source for the going and striking train with prominent striking Jack on top of the two bells for both the Dutch striking on the hour and half hour (Fig. 17). It is dated 1678 and signed by Kornelis Michielsz Volger, the founder of the Zaan clock industry, in which families like Koogies and Van Rossen participated. Volger is also known for his turret clocks, like his younger nephew Dirck Jacobsz, of whom an early stool clock was described in Antiquarian Horology of spring 1991.

fig. 17. Rare Zaan clock by Kornelis Michielsz Volger, dated 1678. The Museum of the Dutch Clock, Zaandam.

The Zaan region didn’t recognize either guilds or other protective regulations for craftsmen. Zaan clocks often have a motto on the brass bell fret reading ‘Nu elck syn sin’ (Everymen to his idea) which expresses the dominant mennonite or humanist view of tolerance and mutual respect, or maybe just liberal opportunism.
The eighteenth century Frisian stool clock has a painted face, a lead bell fret and mermaid figures attached to the case. The museum in Zaandam owns various examples of the Frisian stool clock, like this beautiful example by Bauke Haanstra of Sneek, dated 1736.

The extremely popular (specifically in Friesland) regional wall clock of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the so called staartklok (or tail clock). In common with the Amsterdam longcase clock the staartklok has a longer pendulum and an anchor escapement, as applied by the English clockmakers William Clement in the oldest known longcase clock (1668), also part of the exhibition ‘Horological Masterworks’, and by Joseph Gibb in the turret clock for Wadham College, Oxford (1670), now on display in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Precision timekeepers and ‘designer clocks’.
The nineteenth century also brought advanced precision timekeepers such as a mantel clock with compensation pendulum of 1840 by Cornelis van Spanje in the museum in Schoonhoven, a regulator with compensation pendulum by Hermann Friedrich Knebel (c. 1840) (Figs 18 & 19) or marine chronometers by Knebel, Andreas Hohwü, J.P. Dupont & Zoon and Abraham de Casseres (c. 1880-1910). Good examples of chronometers like these are to be found in the Boerhaave Museum or the University Museum of Utrecht or the museum in Zaandam.

fig. 18. Regulator by Hermann Friedrich Knebel. Collection Van Braam-Minnesma on loan to Museum of the Dutch Clock, Zaandam.
fig. 19. Regulator by Hermann Friedrich Knebel, the movement.
(click on image to enlarge)

By the time of the early twentieth century, Dutch clockmaking definitively had lost its dominant position to countries like France, Germany and Switzerland. Now running on foreign movements it only is the artistic value of some of the Dutch clock cases by designers like H.P. Berlage, Jan Eisenloeffel, Hildo Krop and Theo Nieuwenhuys, working in contemporary styles like the elegant Nieuwe Kunst (the Dutch version of Modern Style or Jugendstil), the expressionist Amsterdam School or flamboyant Art Déco, which makes these timepieces highly collectable.

I hope this short overview of Dutch masterpieces in clockmaking has given you an impression of a rather underestimated chapter of our cultural heritage. It is not only my task as a curator to maintain this heritage, but also to propagate its cultural role and significance to a much broader audience. For this, I am much obliged to the Boom-Time Foundation in initiating a new program for the development of a international website with a digital catalogue of Dutch signed clocks in public collections. This website, under the working title of, combines data about timekeepers scattered over the various collections in Dutch and foreign museums and (hopefully) also substantial private collections.

The Dutch of the seventeenth century were an industrious, prosperous but also a severely religious people. The Hague clock perhaps summarizes best these characteristics. Trade made them open minded to different perspectives and possibilities. Great men like Descartes or Comenius found refuge in this country and brought their ideas. Sometimes Dutch culture seems a Babylonian hotchpotch and not a real national identity in its own right, at best a marriage of convenience between a restless movement and a sheltering case. But in this eclectic spectrum lie the tools for continuity: Survival through adaptation. Perhaps this we can learn from the history of the Dutch clock; perhaps this reveals the true identity of the ‘Dutch connection’.

In a proverbial domestic scene by Jan Steen (Fig. 20) a monkey can be detected interfering the order of things by lifting up the weight of a wall clock and in this way visualizing a seventeenth century proverb which found a less-moralizing equivalent in our modern and true saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.

fig. 20. ‘Monkey business’ after Jan Steen (Museum of Arts, Vienna)
(click on image to enlarge)

In Calvinistic terms it implied a warning not to neglect our serious duties. As admirers of antique timepieces we tend to freeze time in order to preserve it like a stylized natura morte. But contrary to the ‘monkey-business’ the purpose of a going train, a movement is without doubt to run. The responsibility for our cultural heritage is an active one of maintaining and development. That’s why I prefer to end my talk with yet another moralistic image, not of a monkey but of an old wise man (Fig. 21). In spite of its sexist implication it illustrates my demanding yet fulfilling work as a curator and maybe of us all as conscientious horologists.

fig. 21. ‘C’est toujours a recommencer’ (A. van de Venne, 1658).

There is a title to the image which reads in the French version:
Un horologe entretenir, Jeunes dames a gré servir, vieille maison reparer, est toujours a recommencer‘. Or roughly translated: ‘To keep a clock running, to please a lady, to repair an old house, it all sums up in starting again all the time’.

Now that’s Huygens’ ‘endless rope’ for you!

(Oxford, March 29th 2003)

Source: Proceedings of the Fiftieth Anniversary Convention of The Antiquarian Horological Society, Keble College Oxford, March 2003.
© Pier van Leeuwen
With permision of the Horological Foundation
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Pier van Leeuwen
Mr. Pier van Leeuwen is curator of the  Museum of the Dutch Clock Born 1958 in Delft, Pier van Leeuwen studied as a graphic artist at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in The Haghe and later as e museologist at the Reinwardt Academy in Leyden. From 1989 he worked with a number of Dutch museums in various capacities including those of exhibition designer, consultant and curator. In 1997 he became Curator of The Museum of The Dutch Clock in Zaandam, which now exhibits the most complete survey of the history of the Dutch clock. Pier has several publications to his name including those on such subjects as Dutch Designer Glass, Modern Sculpture in Zaanstad and the painter Thijmen Moll of Huizen. In 2002 Pier started a project for the Boom-Time Foundation in Utrecht, building a website for a virtual catalogue of Dutch signed clocks which will be on-line in 2004.


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