Unfreezing Time

Dr. Patricia Fara

Dr Patricia Fara, historian of science, is an Emeritus Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and she has been President of the AHS since 2016.

She is particularly interested in the Enlightenment, scientific images and women in science, both past and present. A regular contributor to 'In Our Time', 'Start the Week' and other radio and TV programmes, she has published a range of popular books on the history of science, most recently A Lab of One’s Own: Women, Science and Suffrage in the First World War (2018) and After Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career (2021).

In 2018, she gave a talk to the East Anglian Section of the AHS on the theme ‘Time without clocks: Capturing the invisible in science and art’, in which she discussed several images that refer to time and its passing without showing a clock. Her lecture was reported in Antiquarian Horology in March 2019, pp. 126–7.

Since then, she has developed the ideas of that lecture to contribute a regular feature called ‘Unfreezing Time’. Every issue of the journal shows wonderful clocks, but paradoxically, they fail to fulfil their essential function of telling the time: their hands have been frozen by the camera in a stationary position. In contrast, although paintings and drawings are also unchanging and two-dimensional, they can be designed to portray the passage of time by indicating the past and future as well as the instantaneous present. Rather like cracking the ice on a pond, a picture can be prised apart to reveal messages concealed beneath its surface.

Unfreezing Time No. 1 William Dyce, Pegwell Bay, Kent A Recollection of October 5th, 1858

Unfreezing Time No. 2 Maggi Hambling, Dorothy Hodgkin

Unfreezing Time No. 3 Christoffel van den Berghe, Still Life with Flowers in a Vase

Unfreezing Time No. 4 Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Joseph Banks, Bt.

Unfreezing Time No. 5 Henry de la Beche, Awful changes: Man found only in a fossil state....

Unfreezing Time No. 6 Robert Walker, John Evelyn