It’s About Time

These five artworks have time on their side.

Idea One: Animal Attributes

Dragon, from a set of zodiac figures, 14th century Unknown artist, China
China, Yuan dynasty (1280-1365)
Animal figures of the zodiac
Earthenware with mineral pigments
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Gift of Ruth ad Bruce Dayton

The most recent Year of the Rat began on February 7, 2008. The next Year of the Rat will occur in 2020.

The dragon comes fifth in the calendar cycle. It symbolizes authority, dignity, and power.

A person born in the Year of the Dog might be patient, trusting, and loyal.
Today China uses the Gregorian calendar, or Western calendar, as does most of the world. However, the traditional Chinese calendar for festivals and holidays is still followed. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, in which years are numbered in a limitless sequence, this ancient calendar repeats in a sixty-year cycle. Each year is assigned a name based on two components, a Heavenly Stem and an Earthly Branch. With ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches cycling in a given order, there are sixty possible names for years.

The Earthly Branches are represented by twelve animals, each assigned to a particular hour, day, month, and year. Within the calendar, the animals follow a specific order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Many legends describe how that order was established. According to one, the Buddha invited all the animals to compete in a race, but only twelve participated. The Buddha awarded each of them a place on the calendar, corresponding to the order in which they finished the race.

From the Chinese calendar, Chinese astrology developed. It was a way of foretelling the future using the twelve-year cycle of animals, known as the Chinese zodiac. A person’s year of birth was believed to link them to the animal in charge of that year. The person was likely to share the animal’s characteristics and to be influenced in physical appearance, personality, success, and happiness.

Idea Two: Timely Tiles

Maw & Company, Ltd
Broseley, England
July and August tiles, 1880
Glazed ceramic
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Gift of Lucy Rogers and Larry Grant

This set of twelve calendar tiles has scenes of everyday life in the 19th century.

The scenes on the May and June tiles relate to those months. The May tile shows a man crowning a woman with a wreath of flowers while dancers circle a Maypole. On the June tile, two men using tools called scythes are cutting a crop in a field.

The January and February tiles are labeled JANry and FEBry and give the number of days in the month.
Crafted in 1880 by a tile-making company in England, these ceramic tiles eventually ended up in the small town of Afton, Minnesota. In 1895 a railroad worker named Tom Cooney installed them, along with others he had collected, around the fireplace in his rural Minnesota home.

Decorative wall tiles like these were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Enjoyed for their beauty and appreciated for their cleanliness, they were used in home kitchens, bathrooms, entryways, and fireplace surrounds, and also in hospitals, churches, and shops. Traditionally, picture tiles were individually hand-painted by skilled workers and purchased as luxury items by the wealthy. But their growing popularity led companies to find faster, less expensive ways to produce them. With a technique called transfer printing, an artist’s meticulously created original design could be quickly printed in a factory onto one tile after another. First the artist engraved (carved) the design on a tile-sized piece of copper. Next the copper engraving was printed on thin paper, which was then pressed onto a tile to transfer the design. Finally, the decorated tiles were coated with a clear glaze and heated in a kiln (oven). Sold inexpensively, these mass-produced tiles could be bought by almost everyone.

Wall tiles were sometimes decorated with images of the seasons, times of day, or months of the year. This set of twelve calendar tiles has genre (everyday) scenes of country life related to the twelve months. People are shown performing daily chores and joining in seasonal activities. The July tile pictures someone letting horses drink at a pool, suggesting summer’s warm weather and the animals hard work. August’s image is two men working in a field. While one labors at cutting the wheat, the other pauses to drink from a wooden barrel. Each tile is labeled with the name of the month and the number of days in that month.

Idea Three: Symbols in the Weaving

From the series The Medallion Months. The Month of September, symbolized by a vintage scene depicted in an oval medallion of which the frame carries the twelve signs of the zodiac alternated with pairs of classic female figures each holding an hour glass. In the upper spandrels Semele and Jupiter; in the lower spandrels a pair of lovers and a peasant cutting gapes. Elaborate border of fruits and figures outlined by guilloche band. Well preserved, colors fresh. This tapestry one of a set of twelve months of which seven pieces are known to exist. Materials warp undyed wool, 7-8½ ends per cm., weft dyed wool and silk, 22-120 ends per cm.
Belgium (Brussels)
Circle of Bernard van Orley
_Month of September_, 1525-28
Silk, wool; tapestry weave
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

September’s freshly harvested grapes are stomped for the making of wine.

A pair of scales is September’s zodiac sign, known as Libra.

A pair of women, representing two hours of the day, hold hourglasses to measure time.
In times past, the months of the year were a favorite theme for large wall hangings called tapestries. This tapestry, titled _Month of September_, belongs to a set of twelve. It illustrates the grape harvest and the making of wine important events for that time of year.

In the central scene two men stomp grapes in a large wooden vat while a man and a woman add more grapes. Beyond them, the harvest continues as people cut grapes and carry them out of the fields. Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, watches over these events from above.

Framing the main scene, a wide oval band features the signs of the Western zodiac. Libra, the sign for September, appears at the top center. Alternating with the zodiac signs are twelve pairs of women who stand for the twenty-four hours of the day. Each holds an hourglass representing the passage of time. Numbers running along the band’s outer edge indicate the hours of the day, and the background changes from light to dark, showing day and night at this time of the year. Stars are scattered in the darkest, nighttime part at the bottom.

Tapestries such as this served not just as decorations but also as insulation, covering the walls of chilly churches and castles. Made of costly materials like wool and silk, these huge weavings required the painstaking work of many highly skilled workers. They were luxury items, ordered and purchased only by the wealthiest and most powerful people.

Idea Four: Picturing Time

Jumping a hurdle, saddle, bay horse. From a portfolio of 83 collotypes, 1887, by Edweard Muybridge; part of 781 plates published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania
Eadweard Muybridge
_Animal Locomotion_, plate 640, 1887
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin, and Charles Alfred Pillsbury

Eadweard Muybridge, a celebrated landscape photographer, was asked to use his talents to settle an ongoing debate in the horse-racing world. The long-standing question was Does a galloping horse ever have all four feet off the ground at once? Not only did Muybridge’s photographs reveal the answer, but the techniques and inventions he developed changed the world of photography and made him the father of the motion picture. However, for Muybridge to show time in motion, he had to stop it first.

With a horse named Occident, Muybridge began trying out various ways of capturing the horse in action. In the beginning, he stretched thin threads across a racetrack and attached them to the shutters of twelve cameras. As Occident broke through each string, the camera instantly snapped a picture. Although the images were less than perfect, they clearly showed Occident with all four feet off the ground. With the argument settled, Muybridge continued to improve his technique, called the instantaneous photograph. He later combined twenty-four cameras and an automatic timer to take pictures in rapid sequence from the front, side, and rear.

Over time Muybridge photographed animals of all kinds and also men, women, and children, capturing their bodies in action. Muybridge’s work gave scientists a better understanding of human and animal locomotion (movements). It served as a reference for painters and sculptors. And eventually it led to the invention of the motion picture.

Stopping time had been the first step in the creation of the motion picture. Using his own invention, the Zoopraxiscope, Muybridge could show a series of his instantaneous images in rapid succession. When shown in a short repeated loop, the images appeared to be in motion. The motion picture was born.

Lawn tennis, serving. From a portfolio of 83 collotypes, 1887, by Edweard Muybridge; part of 781 plates published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania
Muybridge photographed all kinds of animals in motion, including this bird taking flight.
Eadweard Muybridge, _Animal Locomotion_ Plate 730, 1887, Collotype, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin, and Charles Alfred Pillsbury

This set of instantaneous photographs captures Ruth the mule in action.
Eadweard Muybridge, Ruth, the Mule, Kicking, 1887, Collotype, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin, and Charles Alfred Pillsbury

Cameras placed at three different locations front, side, and rear capture the movements of this tennis player.
Eadweard Muybridge, _Animal Locomotion_ Plate 298, 1887, Collotype, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Samuel C. Gale, William H. Hinkle, Albert Loring, Charles M. Loring, Charles J. Martin, and Charles Alfred Pillsbury

Tigress, walking, turning around. From a portfolio of 83 collotypes, 1887, by Edweard Muybridge; part of 781 plates published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania

Idea Five: Time and Time Again

The multiple timekeeping functions of this clock make it one of the most ambitious objects ever designed by Jean-Antoine Lépine, clockmaker to King Louis XVI of France.
Jean-Antoine Lepine and Joseph Coteau
Astronomical mantel timepiece, 1789
Marble and gilt bronze
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Gift of funds from Mrs. Carolyn Groves

The hour hand takes a whole day to circle the dial on this 24-hour clock.

This dial charts the sun’s position relative to the stars. Its hand goes all the way around just once a year.

This face tells the time of sunrise and sunset. It’s hand, like the main clock’s, circles the dial once a day.
Over two hundred years ago, Jean-Antoine Lepine (lay-PEEN), clockmaker to King Louis XVI of France, built this amazing timepiece. It tracks the sun’s position during the day and throughout the year.

The large central clockface gives the time in Paris, and its twelve smaller dials keep time for cities around the world. Look carefully and you will notice something unusual: this is a 24-hour clock. Instead of twelve numbers in a circle, this clockface has twenty-four (in roman numerals). They run from one to twelve and then repeat, with noon (XII) at the top and midnight (XII) at the bottom. The hour hand circles the clock only once a day.

The two smaller clockfaces, on each side of the main face, give additional information. The one on the right shows the times of sunrise and sunset. It’s hand makes one complete circle each day. A complex system of windows, which open to varying degrees, tells when it is daylight or darkness. The face on the left marks the sun’s position in relation to the twelve signs, or constellations, of the Western zodiac. Its hand makes a circle only once in an entire year.

Related Activities

Animal Attributes

Use the Internet to find your Chinese zodiac sign. What animal presides over the year of your birth? What are the characteristics of that animal? Why do you think those personality traits were assigned to that animal? Do you think those characteristics relate to you?

The Time of My Life

Think about your favorite time of year, season, month, day of the week, or time of day. What makes it your favorite? What kinds of activities go on at this time? Draw a picture illustrating your favorite time and have classmates guess what it is.

Making Time

Why does a week have seven days? What part did astronomy play in the creation of the calendar we know today? Learn about the history of the calendar and examine calendars from around the world at the [WebExhibits online unit Calendars Through the Ages](

Stop and Go

Take a look at the Minneapolis Institute of Art online resource [_Animal Locomotion_]( to see Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs in motion.

What Time Is It?

Use the website []( to find out what time it is around the world. Take a look at time zones, find out when the sun or moon will rise and set, and see where it is daytime or nighttime right now! You could also use apps on a variety of phones and tablets to figure out this information!

Seasonal Symbols

Symbols are designs or images used to create deeper meaning. Think about the year, month, day, or time you were born. What was happening in your town, state, country, or the world? What was the weather like? Draw a picture using symbols to tell a visual story of your birthday.

Pick Up a Book

Spend a little of your time with a book about time. All titles are owned by the Hennepin County Public Library.

Casey, Dawn. _The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac_. Cambridge, Mass.: Barefoot Books, 2006.

Demi. _The Dragon?s Tale and Other Animal Fables of the Chinese Zodiac_. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1996.

Formichelli, Linda. _Tools for Timekeeping: A Kid’s Guide to the History and Science of Telling Time_. White River Junction, Vt.: Nomad Press, 2005.

Hughes, Paul. _The Months of the Year: Stories, Songs, Traditions, Festivals, and Surprising Facts about the Months of the Year All Over the World_. Ada, Okla.: Garrett Educational Corp., 1989.

Maestro, Betsy. _The Story of Clocks and Calendars: Marking a Millennium_. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1999.

Skurzynski, Gloria. _On Time: From Seasons to Split Seconds_. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2000.

Somervill, Barbara A. _The History of the Calendar_. Chanhassen, Minn.: Child’s World, 2006.”