How many of you spotted Cardinal Wolsey’s travelling sundial this week?
This delightful object was created by the German mathematician Nicolaus Kratzer in 1522. He came to England in about 1518 and was astronomer to King Henry VIII. The base has Wolsey’s coat of arms on one side, the arms of York Minster – he was it’s archbishop form 1514 onwards- on the other and on the two smaller sides there’s a cardinal’s hat.
The sundial is polyhedral – basically it tells the time in a number of different ways depending on which side you’re using. And yes it is completely covered in gold. Aside from being a very busy man who needed to get to his meetings on time Wolsey was also demonstrating that he was a cultured and learned chap. Or put another way he liked beautiful and complicated things and if you were really lucky you might be invited to take a closer look if you visited him – so a conversation piece as well.
Holbein depicted Kratzer holding a sundial and there’s a polyhedral sundial in his picture of the Ambassadors which can be seen in the National Gallery.
For a happy half hour finding out more about the importance of mathematical objects including sundials visit the National Gallery page below to explore the Ambassadors by Hans Holbein.