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Saturday Art: Jacquemarts, Bell Strikers of Dubrovnik

Maro and Baro, clockstrikers of Dubrovnik

In the central square of the walled city of Dubrovnik, a clock tower dominates.   It’s a wonderful clock tower, part of Sponza Palace, and has been rebuilt a few times after destructive earthquakes and wars rumbled through.

Long a feature there are the historic strikers, nicknamed Maro and Baro, built in 1477/8 by Michelozzo di Bartoleomeo, whose assistant quite  probably was  il Greco.

The two actual figures have been removed so that they could be preserved as artworks, and replicas now faithfully strike the hours on the central building in Dubrovnik, while visitors can see the originals up close in the Rector’s Palace which serves as a museum of the city’s historic and significant art.

Clock strikers are a wonderful feature of the old European clock towers that typically mark the town centers where city fathers gathered.   We can imagine that the striking of the hour kept them from arriving late to meetings and meals, but those striking men always had a commanding presence important to the dignity of the town.   Called Jacquemarts, they gave whimsy as well as serving their purpose as timekeepers.

In the evening, the cities’ gates were closed, and all merchantmen who were neither citizens nor guests of the town had to leave. Here, too, the awareness of the current hour was important. Therefore, the mundane cities challenged the church’s monopoly over time and established own devices: big bells, situated on bridges or fortifications. People specifically assigned with this task observed a water clock or hour glass, and struck the bells at each full hour.

The origin of the term “jacquemart”

Even before the advent of mechanical clocks based on the revolution of wheels, the middle-ages thus had their first “jacquemarts”. In France, the guardians on the watch towers, who had to strike the bells in times of fire or attack, were called “Jacques-Marc”, a French variation of “jaccomarchiadus”, the armoured jacket worn by the cities’ soldiers. So the first hour-striking “jacquemarts” were living men, not automated figures.

The clock tower is part of a complex of official buildings, styled to show their importance in the history of the old walled city.

Dubrovnik clocktower, Jacquemarts just visible

City center in Dubrovnik, clock tower from in front

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.