by Barbara Palladino
They’ve been hanging in the same spot since 1700, when Marie Antoinette gave them to her sister Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples: the cuckoo clocks on the ceiling of the Royal Palace of Caserta’s boudoir are a wonder of fine artistic taste. They were made by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jacquet Droz, who modeled them after cages with mechanical birds inside them. At the time, the latter used to flap their wings and move, but over time they were replaced by taxidermic specimens. The white varnish faces are visible only from below, and feature both Roman and Arabic numbers. Inside the clocks, the date “4 fevrier 1785” is visible.
The cages were made in gilt bronze and have sculpted busts at the four corners, representing the passage of time in the four seasons of life: childhood, youth, adulthood and old age.
The clocks were never moved and ring every half hour to this day, reminding visitors of the time of luxury when kings and queens used to set the pace of their day with these amazing collector’s items, delightful to look at and full of interesting details.
Another beautiful room at the palace, the Alessandro Hall where Joachim Murat’s throne once was, is now home to the “Egyptian” clock – named after the metal plate on the base, which is decorated with palms and an obelisk. Made in 1823 by Carolus Baccaro using mahogany and gilt bronze, it is built into a cylinder surrounded by a snake and supported by two caryatids. Part of the allegorical figures that once adorned it have disappeared.
The Royal Palace – known in Italian as Reggia di Caserta – also has another precious and peculiar instrument to tell time: a sun dial. Placed on the windowsill of Ferdinand II’s bedroom, protected by a bronze lid that has preserved it in great condition to this day, it is made in fine marble and features elegant incisions and the inscription, “SIGNAT ET MONET” – that is, “shows and warns”, just like the passage of time always has, for centuries and centuries.