‘UNEXPECTED TIMES’: A SUNDIAL ON THE PONTE VECCHIO


sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-4

Florence in January.  -8°C at night, zero during the day – but sunny enough in the middle of the day to be able to have coffee or even lunch outside. Apart from the Uffizi, no queues for anywhere. Most significant places on the tourist trail almost to oneself. Despite the cold, there is no frost: the air is so dry that the pavements, piazzas and even the cars are quite clear of frozen white crystals. By the river I caught the electric flash of a male kingfisher flying up from the water to an overhanging bush, his hunting perch. I watched him as he scanned the water below, occasionally diving down and returning to the same branch. Twice, I could see the glint of a tiny fish in his beak. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-5

Since I was 17 I have been lucky enough to visit Florence quite often, not least because Mrs RH regularly goes there on business, and I am a keen ‘trailing spouse’. Over the years I don’t know how often I have crossed the Ponte Vecchio – or even simply walked to the mid-point to admire the views up and down river from the open areas between the pricey shops. This time I was walking the length of the Vasari corridor that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno. A section runs straight over the bridge and then passes across the facade of Santa Felicita, into which the Medici family could sneak from the corridor to a large private balcony for spiritual refreshment. Passing the middle of the west side of the bridge, in the ‘tourist photo opp’ gap where Cellini’s bust adds to the photogenic view, I have never before looked upwards.

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-2

Here, on the roof of a shop, is an ancient sundial, supported by a white marble pillar. An eroded and almost illegible engraving below the pillar records that in 1333, floods caused the bridge to collapse and that “twelve years later, as pleased the Commune, it was rebuilt with this ornamentation”. The sundial itself, with its columnar divisions reminiscent of a rose window, marks the CANONICAL HOURS. The gnomon’s shadow indicates the hour of the day. If the sundial is the ‘ornamentation’ to which the inscription refers, then it is around 650 years old.

If you look closely at the pillar, you’ll see, halfway up the south face of the hexagonal column, a lizardsundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-1

Seeing the sundial for the first time ever, yet in such a familiar place was a reminder that Florence is a city that demands great attention as one walks through the streets. Many buildings, even unassuming ones, have fine adornments high up that will catch the eye… but only if you are looking out for them. 

sundial-ponte-vecchio-florence-7

A PUZZLING SUNDIAL IN THE PYRÉNÉES-ORIENTALES


VILLEFRANCHE-DE-CONFLENT is a small medieval walled town in Catalan country. It is watched over by Fort Liberia, one of VAUBAN‘s massive defensive constructions in this historically strategic area. The town is charming, and additionally famous for being the start of the ‘Train Jaune’, a picturesque narrow-gauge railway that climbs high into the Pyrénées. The amazing altitude rise is from 1250 ft at Villefranche to 5000 ft at the track’s summit just above the village of Mont Louis (which has its own Vauban fort) 

Double sundial, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Pyrénées-Orientales

The sundial above is high up on a house in the church square. It doesn’t exactly draw the eye, and would be very easy to miss. It’s on the house next to the Mairie (right, with the Catalan flag), below the small top windows.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

TWO DIALS IN ONE

The main dial is etched and painted on cement, with roman numerals and showing hours, halves and quarters. The long gnomon is attached beneath a small sculpted head from which sun rays radiate – a simple representation of a solar deity. Above the head can be seen numbers, of which only 11 and 8 at the start, and 3 at the end can be made out with any certainty. Possibly, it is a date: the dial (which is not ancient) is otherwise undated and it is very hard to guess its age. I can find no explanation for the initials DS (top left, Gothic font) and ER (top right, normal font). 

The small dial-within-a-dial shows the hours only, with arabic numerals. The gnomon points straight down. I am unsure of its purpose as a supplementary dial on the same plane, but I hope to find out.

Villefranche-de-Conflent - Sundial

INSCRIPTION

The words “COM MES SOL FA MES BE ESCRIC” are Catalan and mean roughly “When it is sunny, I write (show the time) well”. This rather charming inscription was apparently added around 2000 by the village pastor.

Credit: for information, Michel Lalos, who has compiled a comprehensive illustrated record of the sundials of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

SUNDIALS AT HOUGHTON HALL, NORFOLK


On a recent trip to Houghton for an exhibition, I forgetfully left my camera in the car. Suddenly we were confronted by a fine ornate C18 pillar or column sundial, fit for one of the marginally better-curated theme pages of this sub-blog, SUNDIALS. Resorting to an iPh*ne in low light was far from ideal, so apologies for the quality of the images. Fortunately you can see the ingenious ways in which the 4 gnomons are attached to achieve the correct shadow angles; and the numbering variations of the faces, depending on their orientation. The result is dawn-to-dusk time-telling. Always provided the sun is shining!

1.  A FOUR-SIDED C18 PILLAR  SUNDIAL IN THE GARDENS AT HOUGHTON

IMG_0168  IMG_0169 IMG_0170 IMG_0172 IMG_0173

2. A FOUR-FACED SUNDIAL ON AN OCTAGONAL TOWER: HOUGHTON HALL, WEST FRONT

By the time we got to the house a light drizzle was falling and there was no hope of a decent photo. I’ve had to borrow, as credited. I’ve included 1 poor effort at the end simply to give the sundial’s context in relation to the house. Thanks to Elliott Brown for use permission for the first two. You can see these and his other images HERE. Again, you can clearly see the variations in the gnomon placement; and in the numbering / angling of the faces. And, thankfully, proof that the sun does shine in  Norfolk.

Houghton Hall Sundial EB grab 1Houghton Hall Sundial EB grab 2

The image below is credited to Edmund Patrick and licensed via wikimedia commonsHoughton Hall Norfolk 4-face sundial Edmund Patrick wikimedia commons

Bad weather shot… in all senses
IMG_0176

SUNDIALS ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT


SUNDIALS ON THE ISLE OF WIGHT

On a recent impromptu  visit to the Isle of Wight, we came across a number of sundials. Sadly we didn’t go to Brading, so we missed the annelematic sundial and the unusual ‘public’ sundial there. On the other hand, I did get to see the Mary Watts ‘Arts & Crafts’ sundial at Tennyson’s former home Farringford (now a hotel in the process of renovation), of which more below… 

1. A CHURCHYARD SUNDIAL AT GODSHILL

2. TWO SUNDIALS AT A PRIVATE HOUSE NEAR SHORWELL

This sundial was in an overgrown sunken garden. I used my phone on a dull rainy day – hence the image quality…

3. THE MARY WATTS ‘ARTS & CRAFTS’ SUNDIAL AT FARRINGFORD 

Among Tennyson’s coterie of friends and regular visitors to Farringford were painter G.F.Watts and his wife Mary. You’ll find all you need – or (probably) want – to know about them here WATTS GALLERY COMPTON. Having seen this pedestal in real life, my completely amateur view is that a suggestion that our own sundial (unearthed by me as a child from a pigsty at my home) is a Watts pedestal is unlikely to be correct. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by this one: very much Compton style, but not to my taste (if one is allowed to say that…). The lettering is incised, whereas on mine it is embossed (I’m not sure MW used that technique). So although mine has an authentic Liberty plate, the ID of the commissioned pedestal maker remains a mystery – probably lost through the standard Liberty practice of failing to credit their artists or to retain records of their commissioned work. To see the ‘Pigsty Sundial’ and examples of sundials at the Watts Gallery, click SUNDIALS and scroll down through the gallery.

FOR COMPARISON: THE ‘PIGSTY’ SUNDIAL – PEDESTAL AND GNOMONLESS LIBERTY DIAL

A FINE MULTI-FACETED SCOTTISH SUNDIAL AT KELBURN CASTLE, AYRSHIRE


A FINE MULTI-FACETED SCOTTISH SUNDIAL AT KELBURN CASTLE, AYRSHIRE

If you want to find a good choice of multi-faceted sundials, Scotland is the place to go. A considerable number may be found at country houses and castles, or elsewhere having originated from a large estate. Many, perhaps most, are 200-300 years old. Some are relatively simple; others are so complex that their purpose is clearly as much ornamental as horological. Good examples can be found at Glamis, Haddo House, Castle Fraser and Culzean Castle. The photos below of a wonderful 1707 multi-faceted oblelisk sundial were taken at Kelburn Castle in Ayrshire*.

The sundial from each angle – the polyhedral part, and the stem below

East Side

North Side

West Side

South Side

The ‘Spire’

I later regretted not having counted the number of individual dials. This is one of the most important sundials in the United Kingdom. Some restoration has been carried out, and it now appears to be in overall good condition. It is heartening to think that, more than 300 years after this obelisk was installed at Kelburn, the castle is still occupied by the same family.

*Although the grounds are open to the public, this historic 1707 sundial is in the private part and I am grateful to the Earl of Glasgow for permission to use photos that I took while at Kelburn as a guest.

LES CADRANS SOLAIRES: THE AMAZING CERAMIC TILE SUNDIALS OF COARAZE, PROVENCE


The sundials shown below are in Coaraze, a small medieval ‘village perché’ (650m) in the Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, north of Nice. They include sundials by artistic polymath Jean Cocteau, novelist, poet, dramatist, designer, artist and filmmaker; Ponce de Leon; and Henri Goetz, among others. They are located in two places in the village (1) on the front and side walls of the Marie (2) at the top of the village on a south-facing walls in the square in front of the church

MONA CRISTIE – LA CHEVAUCHÉE DU TEMPS

GEORGES DOUKING – LES ANIMAUX FABULEUX

JEAN COCTEAU – LES LÉZARDS (lizards are the historic symbol of the village)

GILBERT VALENTIN – LES  TOURNESOLS                     

FABIENNE BARRE (2008) – on the side wall of the Marie, with a view of the village

ANGEL PONCE DE LÉON – BLUE TIME (1961)         

HENRI GOETZ – LE PYTHON ET SA COURONNE EN VERT ET OR (1961)                        

SACHA SOSNO (2007)                        

“BEN” – BENJAMIN VAUTIER (2008)

CALENZANO ALTO’S ANALEMMATIC SUNDIAL, ITALY


This excellent analemmatic sundial is installed in the square at the very top of the small medieval town of Calenzano Alto, which perches on a hill above the major industrial sprawl and motorway network of the Arno plain between Prato and Florence.

The sundial takes up a substantial area of the large piazza, and consists of a central sun/moon stone mosaic with radiating ‘sight’ lines to small brass plates numbered from VI to XVIII (in fact number VI is missing, the rest are there). The gnomon is the person who stands at the centre of the sun. There are no buildings close enough to obstruct the sun’s light, so on a sunny or even a bright day, the time can be easily told at least approximately… were it not for the cars that are normally parked all over the square!

SUNDIALS FROM AMSTERDAM (a change from Tulips)


1. MODERN 1993 SUNDIAL ON PRINSENGRACHT ON A c17 HOUSE (? a midwife’s house)

2. MUSEUM VAN LOON, KEIZERSGRACHT – THE OLDEST (1578) OF THREE

2. MUSEUM VAN LOON, KEIZERSGRACHT – ARMILLARY SPHERE

3. MUSEUM VAN LOON, KEIZERSGRACHT – ARMILLARY SPHERE (CLOSE-UP)

4. MUSEUM VAN LOON, KEIZERSGRACHT – A FINE SOUTH-FACING SUNDIAL ON THE GARDEN SIDE