Automaton of a Friar

Automaton of a Friar

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This is an automaton made in the 16th century in the figure of a friar. The figure has a key-wound iron clockwork encased in an unpainted wooden body. The clockwork has a spring in the drum and fusee with cord. It has a wooden head with moveable eyes and lower jaw. The limbs and head are connected to the clockwork with chains and the lower joint of the left arm is connected with a cord. A band of fabric, 2" wide, is fastened with adhesive to the bottom of the body. Traces of flesh-colored enamel can be found on its bald head, hands and feet; red on the lips, brown on the eyes, eyebrows and sandals. The enamel is badly cracked and chipped away in many places. Fully operational, the figure walks in a trapezoidal pattern; moves both arms (right arm strikes chest in "mea culpa" and left arm raises rosary to lips); moves eyes side to side; opens and closes mouth; and turns head.
The attribution is unsubstantiated, but it is possibly made by Juanelo Turriano at the court of Charles V in likeness of the Spanish Saint Diego d'Alcala. The habit was made in the museum, and the rosary date is unknown.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Other Terms
automaton; mechanical
date made
mid 16th century
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
iron (overall material)
overall - figure: 16 in x 5 in x 6 in; 40.64 cm x 12.7 cm x 15.24 cm
overall - robes: 14 1/2 in x 8 in x 5 in; 36.83 cm x 20.32 cm x 12.7 cm
overall - key: 3 5/8 in x 2 1/4 in x 3/8 in; 9.2075 cm x 5.715 cm x.9525 cm
overall - key (new): 4 1/8 in x 1 1/2 in x 1/2 in; 10.4775 cm x 3.81 cm x 1.27 cm
overall - tool: 7 3/8 in x 1/2 in x 1/2 in; 18.7325 cm x 1.27 cm x 1.27 cm
overall - rosary: 14 1/4 in x 1 3/8 in x 3/8 in; 36.195 cm x 3.4925 cm x.9525 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Measuring & Mapping
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Hello, I am curious about how this piece came into the American History Smithsonian’s procession. Is there any information regarding the ‘Automaton of a Friar’’s provenance? Since this is a Spanish work, what was the reasoning for including this piece in the Smithsonian’s collection? Many thanks.

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