blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1


ELIZABETH KING | Clockwork Prayer

Part II: Don Carlos and the Two Monks

Was it too much, in searching the descriptions of the secular and religious celebrations following Don Carlos' return to health, to hope for a mention of a small promised clockwork automaton? Yet I did find something: a volume in Spanish by José A. García-Diego: Los relojes y autómatas de Juanelo Turriano. The Clocks and Automata of Juanelo Turriano. Madrid, 1982. Published by Tempvs Fvgit, Monografías Españolas de Relojería. Among the plates are photographs of two small automata associated with Turriano, one a dancing lady with a lute (figs. 3, 4), now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and the other the figure of the monk (fig 2) now at the Smithsonian. [12]


figure 3   figure 2 (repeated)

García-Diego writes: "This second automaton represents a friar. In contrast with the musical woman, I would say that its personality is, for me at least, considerably unpleasant." [13]



figure 4

Regarding the monk's attribution, he cites two catalog entries for it, from sales exhibitions, one in Geneva and another in Zurich in 1976, prior to the Smithsonian purchase. The Zurich source speculates a south German origin. But in 1980 the Smithsonian Institution, having acquired the monk, included it in the ambitious show "The Clockwork Universe"—the golden age of German clockmaking, 1550 to 1650, and here the monk is labelled as being of either German or Spanish origin. [14] García-Diego comments: "The affirmation that it could be of Spanish origin is based on 'the conception and realistic modelling of the head of the monk'; that to my understanding is only mediocre and (although I am not an expert) without special connection to the art of our country" (p 105). Then he adds this:

But in the cited catalog of Geneva a hypothesis was given about when the figure of the religious one could have been fabricated, of which I think I should record mention.
It is supported in an announcement by Father Servius Gieben, Director of the Historical Institute of the Capuchins in Rome. According to him, it would represent San Diego de Alcalá, a Franciscan who died in 1463.
That would permit connecting it to the Spanish Court, since the episode of how his mummy was placed in the bed of Prince Don Carlos was known, wounded in the head in a supposedly fatal fashion, having fallen down stairs (1562); which had the effect of an immediate cure and later, upon petition of Philip II, the canonization of the friar.
Father Servius continues and I copy:
"In this climate of religious exaltation—processions, public prayers, pilgrimages for obtaining a cure for the Prince—it is in that which the fabrication of the automaton found itself as a kind of votive offering and—why not?—in order to urge the young prince to a more serious life (he was very capricious). The date should be 1562 or a little later, and the author Juanelo Turriano (or de la Torre, dead in 1585) who was chief engineer for Philip II." (pp 105-06)

Here was encapsulated the very story David Todd at the Smithsonian had told me years ago! Mummy or no mummy, here is the notion of a votive offering, a promise, an act of gratitude. But who was Father Servius Gieben? And when did he write his hypothesis? In great excitement I read on . . . and found García-Diego concluding several pages later that he could not agree with either the attribution or the date. In fact he groups several automata linked to Turriano, the monk included, and places them instead in the eighteenth century, 200 years later! According to this author, only the beautiful lady with the lute in Vienna is spiritual enough to remain in Turriano's name. [15]

But he does include another plate: a close-up of the face of the monk is paired with an engraving depicting, we're told, the head of San Diego de Alcalá, fig. 5. [16]

  figure 5


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