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A Work of Genius In the Hermitage

Photo credit: Hermitage museum

It was a gift of General Potemkin to Catherine the Great; it was a challenge for one of the great inventors of 18th-century England. It remains an extraordinary, and entirely functional, work of art.

You can only say so much about the Peacock Clock: it truly must be seen (and heard) to be believed. But when you watch the video below, look for the extraordinary details: the revolving of a gilt dragonfly (which serves as the clock’s second hand), the lifelike movement of the peacock’s neck and head, the movement of the owl’s inner eyelids. Then remind yourself that its movements, music and bird-sounds all operate entirely mechanically—no circuits, no electricity. And then reflect that this extraordinary machine was built 260 years ago in a workshop in England.

On permanent display in St. Petersburg’s world-famous Hermitage Museum, the Peacock Clock is the only surviving automaton by British inventor James Cox. And every Wednesday, just as its done (off and on) for hundreds of years, this wonder comes to life. Have a look, and enjoy:

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