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Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments

By the early 18th century, the Chamber of Art established by Augustus in 1560 was bursting at the seams, and the once intriguing variety and disarray of the collection no longer satisfied contemporary scientific standards. Hence, Augustus the Strong had the paintings separated from the collection and in 1728, he reserved the top floor of Dresden’s pavilion rooms in the Zwinger Palace for a special cabinet of mathematical instruments. There he preserved globes of the planets and the skies, astronomical and geodetic instruments, barometers, thermometers, elaborately decorated instruments for making calculations, drafts and measurements. From the very beginning, sundials were among the highlights of the Cabinet’s collection.

The measurement of time
Astronomer, meteorologist and superb mechanic, Johann Gottfried Köhler was eminently qualified to make significant advances in the measurement of time. In 1776, he was summoned to the court as “inspector” in charge of the Chamber of Art and the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, both accommodated in the Zwinger Palace. Seven years later, he successfully installed the first time-keeping service for the observatory in the Dresden Zwinger with a pendulum clock that he crafted himself. This office determined the time at noon every day to be adopted by the other clocks in the city. For a fee, affluent citizens even had the privilege of subscribing to a special service: an employee would come to their homes every day to set the clock.

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