When you visit the European galleries of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you may have noticed that in the “Renaissance Treasury” gallery (gallery #2) there are a lot of clocks!
These aren’t the wristwatches and battery-powered kitchen clocks that most of us have in our homes and offices. With their highly decorative cases, these special clocks show highly-skilled and artful metalwork that celebrated a new way of time-keeping during the Renaissance.
Until the 14th century, time-keeping was not systematic at all. The only way to tell time was to look at the sun, or to use a sun-dial, but that was tricky because the length of the day changed so much over the course of a year. Another option was to use a water clock, which used flowing water to move gears, but they were large and cumbersome—and not always very accurate.