Editions Xavier Barral
c/o Distributed Art Publishers
155 Sixth Avenue, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013-1507
9782365111348, $69.95, HC, 320pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: An automaton is a self-operating machine, or a machine or control mechanism designed to automatically follow a predetermined sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions. Some automata, such as bellstrikers in mechanical clocks, are designed to give the illusion to the casual observer that they are operating under their own power. Richly illustrated with etchings, manuscripts, and old documents, "Automata" by author and historian Nicholas Foulkes retraces the epic tale of the automaton from ancient times up to the present day.
Wondrous objects that are at once scientific and magical, automata testify to the technical research and inventiveness of their designers. In 1675, the astronomer and mathematician Christian Huygens invented the spiral spring that would play a leading role in the development of smaller and more precise watches, with highly complex mechanisms.
The creation of more complicated wheelwork and the use of extremely meticulous spiral springs gave free rein to clockmakers' imaginations, who invented animated objects that fascinated philosophers and scientists alike. Doctors, thespians and thinkers of the modern world all saw these increasingly lifelike automata: wonderful simulacra of life.
These articulated figurines were to inspire thought, science, literature, the performing arts and more. Continuing this tradition, the house of Van Cleef & Arpels has harnessed all of its designers' talents to create an exceptional automaton: a fairy, whose movements celebrate the art of the inventors of past centuries. Immersed in its designer's studio, the reader sees an automaton come to life.
Critique: Profusely illustrated throughout, impressively informed and informative, "Automata" is the most substantial survey of this popular topic currently available for both scholars and non-specialist general readers on the subject, and is a very highly recommended core addition to both community and academic library collections with respect to automatons.