I went to the Olympia Art & Antiques Fair today with a friend. How refreshing it was to once again feast my eyes on things of beauty, crafted with care and great skill by the hand of man.
The most enchanting objet d'art we encountered was a little singing bird box. These were invented in 1780 (surprisingly, after the Revolution!) by the Jacquet-Droz brothers. We all know about the music boxes in which tunes are generated by a comb and a patterned cylinder. The singing bird is a true masterpiece in that it generates its surprisingly life-like melody through a complex mangle of springs, levers and pipes housed in a sumptuously decorated box (about the size of an iPod). Smaller than a girl's thumb, this jewel-like automaton turns his little head, flaps his little wings, bobs his little tail, and when he's done, quick as a blink! He pops back inside, under his golden lid!
As I didn't get to peep under the lid, it's all Greek to me. But he sure had me entranced!
I guarantee you a smile if you go to the British Clockmaker site and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Press Play and prepare to be thoroughly charmed!
Speaking of Greeks, the ancient ones were early masters of automata. They were obsessed with creating the ultimate mechanical human! So advanced were they that they were able to create "robots", machines and musical instruments powered by steam, water (hydraulics), or wind (pneumatic). In fact, the Greeks also had singing birds motivated by these hydraulics.
The word automatos comes from the Greek meaning "self-moving".
Robota is a Czech word meaning "compulsory labour".
The word hydraulic actually comes from the water-powered organ of ancient Greece: hydra (water) and aulos (wind).
The word pneumatic comes from the Greek pneuma (spirit, breath, air).
Like I said, Greeks rule...!
If you really like the birdie, would you like me to tell you the Chinese legend of The Nightingale???