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It's About Time

Time and Time Again
Jean-Antoine Lepine and Joseph Coteau<br>French<br><i>Astronomical mantel timepiece</i>, 1789<br>Marble and gilt bronze<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of funds from Mrs. Carolyn Groves
zoom Jean-Antoine Lepine and Joseph Coteau
Astronomical mantel timepiece, 1789
Marble and gilt bronze
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of funds from Mrs. Carolyn Groves


Over two hundred years ago, Jean-Antoine Lepine (lay-PEEN), clockmaker to King Louis XVI of France, built this amazing timepiece. It tracks the sun’s position during the day and throughout the year.

The large central clockface gives the time in Paris, and its twelve smaller dials keep time for cities around the world. Look carefully and you will notice something unusual: this is a 24-hour clock. Instead of twelve numbers in a circle, this clockface has twenty-four (in roman numerals). They run from one to twelve and then repeat, with noon (XII) at the top and midnight (XII) at the bottom. The hour hand circles the clock only once a day.

The two smaller clockfaces, on each side of the main face, give additional information. The one on the right shows the times of sunrise and sunset. It’s hand makes one complete circle each day. A complex system of windows, which open to varying degrees, tells when it is daylight or darkness. The face on the left marks the sun’s position in relation to the twelve signs, or constellations, of the Western zodiac. Its hand makes a circle only once in an entire year.

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1. The hour hand takes a whole day to circle the dial on this 24-hour clock.
2. This dial charts the sun’s position relative to the stars. Its hand goes all the way around just once a year.
3. This face tells the time of sunrise and sunset. It’s hand, like the main clock’s, circles the dial once a day.


December 2007