Rosary Bead, 1500–1510. South Netherlandish. Boxwood; Diam: 2 1/16 in. (5.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.475).
When opened, the interior of the bead (which is 2 1/16 in. in diameter) forms a triptych, showing the Journey to Nazareth and the Nativity on the left, the Journey to Nazareth and the Adoration of the Magi in the center, and the Presentation in the Temple on the left. Calvary is rendered on the lower half of the bead.
The fine, close grain of boxwood, which does not warp or split, permits the astonishingly minute and intricate “microcarving” of objects like this “Paternoster” rosary bead. Carved boxwood objects such as this one were produced in workshops in northern Europe in the early sixteenth century. Miniature rosary pendants and altarpieces were popular subjects. Carvings of this type were probably executed and appreciated with the help of a magnifying lens.
See the Collection Database for another example of boxwood carving in miniature.