Prayer Bead, 1500-1530, Mouth of Hell Mouth of Hell
Photo, The Globe and Mail: Ian LeFebvre
Now there is some new research about prayer-nuts or prayer beads, and I think it wonderfully interesting. A fascinating article in the Globe and Mail tells us some things we've never known about these tiny, strange, packed-with-image orbs.
It turns out that a good deal of what's inside is invisible to the viewer, which is rather like the biblical idea of believing in what is unseen: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (KJV Hebrews 11:1). Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII at prayer are hidden behind a pillar. A rack of flayed humans is half-hidden behind the mouth of hell. The CT spies out detail that the owner of the bead never could have known.
How are these little miracles of the seen and unseen made? We now know much more than we did when I wrote my poem. The Art Gallery of Ontario has been peering around inside the beads. "The AGO’s micro-CT scans reveal for the first time that they were carved from a single piece of boxwood, but in parts, like stage sets, then held together, grain aligned, with tiny boxwood pins smaller than a single grass seed."
An experienced master craftsman, with the help of many CT scans, has now taken one of these apart, and so new secrets are known. "Craftsmen used tiny five-centimetre-long tools to drill and gouge and vein the exquisitely detailed religious scenes within the beads – some of which depict dozens of characters in full regalia and action, in a space about 2.5 centimetres wide and 1.5 cm deep." Take a look at the article; if you love the medieval world, you will find that the description of research on these small marvels is packed with interesting details.
The original post about my prayer-nut poem here.
Includes links to beads at the Met.
The poem about the prayer-nut here.
Books and Culture.
The new findings about prayer-nuts here.
The Globe and Mail. With lots of images! (And, oddly, Trump and Comey.)
"The final result is an international exhibition, Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, that premieres Saturday in Toronto at the AGO, and then travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. Toronto’s boxwood has hit the big time, baby." --Ian Brown