PHOTO GALLERY: Prague's most famous landmark gets its clock cleaned

The upper row of allegorical figures have been removed for a cleaning and a new coat of varnish.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 25.11.2021 16:21 (updated on 25.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Anyone who's stopped by Prague’s Old Town Square recently and seen its Astronomical Clock may have noticed something missing. While the saints that appear in the windows for the hourly show are still there, four others that decorate the top corners of the face of the clock have gone missing. They will be absent for about two months.

These wooden statues were removed Wednesday afternoon for a regular application of transparent varnish. The old protective coating has degraded due to weather conditions.

Once these are restored in a studio, the four figures on the bottom will get the same treatment. The varnish is renewed every two to three years to prevent damage.

The top and bottom rows each have four allegorical figures. While difficult to see, three of the statues make slight movements every hour during the procession of saints in the windows above the clock face.

On the top row on the left side, Vanity turns his head to look at a mirror, and Greed shakes his purse and nods. On the right, Death shakes its hourglass and pulls a rope. The final one, Lust, doesn’t move. The figure is a Turk playing the lute.

The bottom row features a philosopher or explorer, Archangel Michael, an astrologer, and a chronicler. None of these figures are animated. Michael, though, holds a pointer aimed at the indicating arrow on the lower wheel. This wheel takes a year to rotate, and the indicator arrow points out which Czech name is to be celebrated each day, the so-called “svátek” or “jmeniny.”

The statues are not part of the original clock design. The clock began operation in 1410, but the first mention of the allegorical side statues is in 1733. The moving saints were added even later and are not mentioned until 1866.

The eight wooden statues and the 12 saints were very badly damaged at the end of World War II when the clock was almost destroyed during the Prague Uprising. The ones that appear today are replicas made a short time after the war. The figure for Greed was modified, as the earlier version of the moneylender sported some details that were seen as offensive.

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The Astronomical Clock underwent a large renovation in 2018, in time for the 100th anniversary of the independent Czechoslovak state, The aim was to get the inner workings and the face as close as possible to its historical state. The restoration after World War II added electric motors, for example, in place of a mechanical system using ropes and weights.

Comprehensive repairs were also carried out on all the statues, the windows that the saints appear in, the clock hands, and the face. Due to complaints about inaccurate shading, the face was restored a second time a few months after it was unveiled.

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