The St. Mark's Clock restoration

Mr. Giuseppe Brusa's reply to the criticism made to his restoration of St. Mark's Place Clock and our answer.

Several months have passed from 25th October 2000, when we asked Giuseppe Brusa when he would have published his technical description of St. Mark's Clock restoration, to reply to our article where the work is discussed.
Recently, Mr. Brusa answered to our disapproval from Venetian Museums' website.

This is our reply.

BRUSA: The criticism by the brothers Renato and Franco Zamberlan which appeared recently in the British Horological Journal must be rejected as it seems that the authors were either partial or have been misinformed. It should also be pointed out that the photographs taken in this connection at the Palazzo Ducale, where the movement is only provisionally assembled, were not authorised and should not have been offered for publication.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: This is only partially true, as the photos were authorized by the Venetian Museums custodian who was present when we visited the room where the movement is exposed to the public. We should have asked for an authorization to publish them, but since we do not earn anything from this, the main interest of the Museum to use them for commercial purposes is preserved. If the Museum Director will denounce us for this, we are ready to pay for our guilt.

BRUSA: As the historical consultant in charge of supervising the restoration of the movement on behalf of the Civici Musei Veneziani, I feel compelled to refer the Reader to the initial hostile attack of Dr. Peratoner the last keeper of the clock, caused by personal resentment, and to the exhaustive confutation written by me, on behalf also of Alberto Gorla, the present restorer, which appeared on the Internet over four months ago.
As soon as circumstances allow I shall prepare for publication an English translation of the whole history of the restoration.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: We repeatedly asked to Mr. Brusa where to find the detailed description of the restoration work, but he never replied to our requests. For Italian law, it is mandatory to describe every intervention to a public property, as the Clock is. This technical brief never appeared, neither in Italian nor in English.

BRUSA: In the meanwhile I will briefly reply here to the comments which, far from being dispassionate, seem to have the main purpose of attracting attention to the commercial website of Messrs Zamberlan, where turret clocks are certainly not a topic.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: As visitors will know, our website is mostly devoted to horological matters that are quite far from mere profit purposes. This is proved by many e-mails we receive every day and that we will show to Mr. Brusa as soon as he will ask for it. We earned nothing from this story and that is not our aim: we only want one of the most important clocks all over the world to be properly restored.

BRUSA: The authors display their lack of horological knowledge not least in failing to understand the fundamental difference between Temporal and Italian Hours. The latter are the oldest and most important feature of the whole masterpiece, and are shown prominently upon the large dial overlooking the San Marco square. The brothers record the use of Graham's dead-beat escapement in 1758, of which there is no evidence, and what is worse they wrongly associate it with the drawing of a clumsy anchor escapement of a much later date. It is significant that to form an opinion on the recent restoration, they had to rely upon the vague information of one or two un-named colleagues.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: We personally visited the mechanism (how could we otherwise take pictures?) and our comment on the restoration is based on historical sources.
Brusa refers to our colleagues but he misinterpreted what happened: they did not talk about St. Mark's Clock, but about other works carried out under Brusa's direction, where big errors have been made. Some of those fellow workers are known to Brusa, because they are members of his own horological association, Hora. Other ones are not Hora associates and we will not publish their names for privacy reasons. They are fully available for a direct contact with Mr. Brusa, anyway, if only he wants.
About our technical and historical knowledge, we leave comments to more qualified horological authorities (Letter from Martin Burgess to the Horological Journal, March 2001).

BRUSA: Messrs Zamberlan ask why I was chosen as a consultant and why Alberto Gorla was given the task directly by Messrs Piaget, the sponsors.
The first few lines of their own "conclusion" concerning our reputation in Italy, defined as "eminent", provides the answer. Among our achievements, the reconstruction of the large Della Volpaia planetary clock, made for the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza of Florence and repeatedly exhibited for scholarly purpose in the USA and in Germany, must have proved convincing enough.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: We asked why other clockmaker were not given the opportunity to compete for the work, since it concerned a public property. We never said that Brusa and Gorla are "eminent" but that they are KNOWN AS eminent. It is quite different. This would not be enough to exclude every other clockmaker from the assignment, anyway.

BRUSA: There was no possibility in Venice to make a formal tender for the restoration, a procedure which would have been too time-consuming in view of the dead-line of the 1st February 1999 set by the Sponsors, in order to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the inauguration of the clock.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: Does this mean that Piaget imposed to choose the restorers without giving other clockmakers a chance to tender, against Italian law? We sincerely hope the Maison did not act this way and we will surely ask them for an explanation on this matter.

BRUSA: Moreover, no other horological restorer, with a large and adequately equipped workroom, was available south of the Alps.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: How is it possible to say this if no tender was made at all? Who can say that a specialist was not available if no search was made? Does Mr. Brusa know all Italian clockmakers and their skills? And why to limit the search to Italy only? Every professional restorer could tender, even from abroad, because the work interested a public property. Furthermore, the clock was not repaired in Venice, but in Mantua, so it was transported, anyway. Surely, for £ 150,000, many qualified clockmakers from abroad would have come to Venice, bringing along the required tools, or hiring them in Italy. These qualified clockmakers DO EXIST.

BRUSA: I had nothing to do with the remunerations and the expenses destined by the Sponsors for the restoration.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: Does this mean that the entire sum was given to Alberto Gorla for the mere execution of the work? This would be the largest sum paid for a "conservative" restoration in horology, ever!
Since Mr. Brusa was at the head of the Committee for the Restoration, he will surely know where the money given by the sponsor went. This information too should be publicly available, because we are talking about a Clock that is under the propriety of Venetian Municipality.

BRUSA: Messrs Zamberlan complain that we did not produce in advance detailed plans of the modifications intended for the movement, but we have already explained and we repeat here, that due to its poor and neglected state, it was not possible to assess its working conditions before reassembling it provisionally and actually trying it out in a suitable place.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: A part from the fact that it is axiomatic that the best place to test a clock is always its natural site, the "detailed plans of the modifications intended for the movement" were NEVER written, neither before nor after the clock was dismantled.
It is acceptable that the description of the necessary interventions is made when the movement has been transported to the workshop, but it is not acceptable that it is not made at all. We hope that a few comments, written more than two years after the restoration, will not be presented as a regular technical description of the interventions required by the restoration, because we already showed what had to be done (and has not been done, to our knowledge) regarding documentation; see: WAGNER HOME PAGE.

BRUSA: On the occasion of a number of meetings, however, and while work was in progress, we informed all the responsible authorities, the sponsors and their experts about the steps to be taken.
The trials proved that the clock could not have performed satisfactorily if the cumbersome changes to the driving train made in 1858 by Luigi De Lucia, a mechanic suddenly turned clockmaker, had to be preserved at all costs, as superficially claimed by last-minute professionals.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: The trials have not been documented, even admitting that they were performed. It is not tolerable that substantial modifications to such an important antique clock are made without first writing a report proving they are absolutely necessary. We have to remember again that it is MANDATORY for Italian law.

BRUSA: This proved particularly true concerning the gigantic 2-second pendulum introduced largely for exhibitionism. Indeed, our own scepticism was experienced from the very early stages, when basic defects emerged and the changes were found unsound as stated in official documents of 1865 and l866. In fact, De Lucia was dismissed almost immediately and had to leave the scene ingloriously. Even the apparatus for showing the hours digitally, which had been invented by him, had to be improved. The clock was kept going, despite interruptions, thanks to the continuous assistance of the keepers and to their expedients, many traces of which have remained. Among these, the highly controversial change of the suspension of the pendulum which, as late as 1950, was lifted above the cage and attached to the ancient wooden ceiling.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: Even Brusa admits that the Clock, even if assisted by a "temperature", ran for 140 years from the last modifications and that prior to dismantling, it still worked. A strictly conservative restoration was much probably enough to keep in working conditions for many years to come. The contrary opinion has never been proven.

BRUSA: Most remarks by Messrs Zamberlan are really of secondary importance as the movement still needs some finishing touches.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: "Secondary importance"? "Some finishing touches"? The movement has been heavily altered! What are "finishing touches"? Does this mean replacing the horrible hexagon bolts used instead of the square ones? Or eliminating the unpolished grinding signs spread all over the mechanism? This will require dismantling it again, because many have been left in hard-to-reach places. So, the restoration is not over: why did Piaget and the Venetian Municipality celebrate it (see pictures below)? There must be something wrong, because Brusa said he could not write a detailed description of the work for the need to complete it in time for the 500 years anniversary of the Clock Tower.



BRUSA: Their arguments add nothing to those already advanced by Dr. Peratoner, the last keeper.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: They add photos, indeed, quite enough to condemn the restoration work and provoke Mr. Brusa reply.

BRUSA: Messrs Zamberlan tend to skim over the crucial point fabricated by their mentor: that an imaginary pendulum which approached 4-metres but did not beat 2", had been used originally by Bartolomeo Ferracina, the leading Italian clockmaker of his time, who devised the movement in 1758. Such a pendulum, allegedly, would have been set between the movement and the great astronomical dial and would have passed through the floor. There is no proof and not even traces of such a scheme which does not agree with the other movements by Ferracina. The brothers Zamberlan seem to accept our view, but try to avoid the conclusion which would lead them to admitting explicitly that the movement, as transformed by De Lucia, was ill-conceived and that trying to preserve it in modern circumstances, without the constant vigilance of a keeper living in the Tower, would prove detrimental to its complex performance and to its role in connection with the life of the city.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: Again, Mr. Brusa seems to forget the priority of the conservation opposite to every historical or philological matter. The status of the movement in 1757 IS NOT the "crucial point". Different opinions about it have no relevance at all. Everybody (also Brusa) knows that in 1858 the pendulum was 13.05 ft long and that is the only thing that counts. All previous features of the movement are definitively lost and they must not be recovered. An 1858 pendulum, a fundamental part of the movement is with no doubt an "antique" and cannot be eliminated, that's all. It does not matter what was there prior to it. It does not matter if the clock does not run very reliably because of it (but it does, 140 year of almost uninterrupted run are there to prove it). The actual 1858 escapement had not to be replaced with a (conjectural) reconstruction of the 1757 one.
Even admitting that for the proper functioning of the clock a person is required, this has always happened in the 500 years long history of the Tower.

BRUSA: Admittedly, Messrs Zamberlan curtail the original attack of Dr. Peratoner and do not oppose the main points of our confutation which appeared on the Internet over four months ago. Our arguments nullify his chimerical conjecture and confirm that the responsibility for the introduction of the gigantic pendulum and its awkward setting rests entirely upon De Lucia. Fortunately, as shown in our confutation and its illustrations, unmistakeable material evidence exists that Ferracina's pendulum was placed at the opposite end of that of 1858, that it was less than half its length and that its bob did not pass through the floor.
It would have been inadmissible in the circumstance to confine the restoration of the movement within narrow conservative limits,

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: We do not curtail Dr. Peratoner attack simply because the conditions of the clock in 1757 are of no relevance at all for a conservative restoration. We think Brusa is wrong even when he says that the 18th Century pendulum was only 6ft. long, anyway: in our opinion, it was 13ft.
The last important modifications to the Clock were carried out in 1857 and they had to be preserved. Unfortunately, 150 year old parts were eliminated and replaced with new components, to restore a mostly unknown 18th Century state. The conservative restoration was the only admitted but it has not been achieved. This was the limit imposed by Piaget and the Venetian Authorities. It has not been respected.

BRUSA: irrespective of the reliability and of the duration of a monumental masterpiece intended for an impressive and spectacular role in the life of Venice.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: The clock ran for 140 years and was still running when dismantled. Every good clockmaker could keep it in good conditions without the alterations introduced by Brusa and Gorla. The opposite, that is to say the extremely unlikely possibility that the clock could not run without replacing all escapement parts and the many other modifications introduced, had to be documented in a technical report, which has never been written.

BRUSA: We believe that the museum which will exhibit the discarded components of the clock, including the controversial `2-second pendulum' and a large documentation, will provide ample opportunity for study and for understanding the compelling motivations of the restoration.

R. & F. ZAMBERLAN: We still do not understand what Brusa refers to with "large documentation"; he said he could prepare it neither before nor during the restoration work, because of the timings imposed by Piaget. We sincerely hope it will not be prepared now, starting from the memories or what happened more than two years ago.
Finally, the "compelling" motivations of the restoration had to be described by Brusa and Gorla BEFORE starting the job and they should not require to be further investigated by other people after the completion of the work.