This mechanical clock was bought by the Emperor Rudolph II in 1584 and housed in the Imperial Treasury in Prague. The globe served as a model of the universe simulating the movements of the sun, the moon and the stars. It could predict the movements of celestial bodies at any time in the past and the future and could tell the time by the position of the stars.
This clock, with its finely engraved dials, enamelled clockfaces and elaborately cast legs, was not simply a functional household item but more a treasury piece, bought primarily for its craftsmanship and technical ingenuity. Clocks were luxury items designed to impress as well as educate. By the 1550s it was fashionable for wealthy noblemen to have a sound understanding of all branches of learning, from art and literature to mathematics and the natural sciences. Clocks such as this were housed alongside automatons and scientific instruments such as astrolabes and sundials in Scientifica, collections celebrating human ability to control nature.
Rudolf II had one of the greatest collections of all. Born in 1552 he was King of Hungary and Bohemia, and from 1576, Holy Roman Emperor. Under Rudolf’s guidance, Prague became one of the leading centres of the arts and sciences in Europe.
Rudolph’s was a hard taste to please and this clock became the subject of a heated dispute. Made by Georg Roll and Johannes Reinhold of Augsburg, it was bought by Rudolph in 1584. A second similar globe by the same makers (now in the Kunsthistorichesmuseum in Vienna) was bought by the Emperor’s brother, Archduke Ernst for a greater price. The Emperor accused Roll of selling him an inferior piece and instructed the City Council of Augsburg, to imprison him for treating him ‘in a scurvy manner’. Roll wrote a lengthy appeal to the Emperor supported by appeals to the Council by his two closest colleagues, the clockmakers Johannes Reinhold and Hans Marquart. They stated that the globes were almost identical and that the cheaper price was offered to the Emperor as Roll was seeking further business at the Imperial court. The Emperor begrudgingly released Roll for the sake of the twenty-five journeymen employees who relied on him for their livelihoods but warned him as to his future conduct.