The paper is historical in two respects, both concerned with visual representations of past time. Its first purpose is to enquire how visual representations of historical time can be used to bring out patterns in a museum collection. A case study is presented of the visualisation of data with sufficient subtlety to be useful to historians and curators. Such a visual analytics approach raises questions about the proper representation of time and of objects and events within it. It is argued that such chronographics can support both an externalised, objectivising point of view from ‘outside’ time and one which is immersive and gives a sense of the historic moment. These modes are set in their own historical context through original historical research, highlighting the shift to an Enlightenment view of time as a uniform container for events. This in turn prompts new ways of thinking about chronological visualisation, in particular the separation of the ‘ideal’ image of time from contingent, temporary rendered views.