Sunday, December 05, 2004

Gauds and gaudier

Through empirical observation, I've evolved a "rule of thumb" that the gauds (marker beads) on medieval rosaries tend to be of a material that is the same or higher in monetary value, and usually also higher in social status, than the ordinary or "ave" beads.

While re-reading recently the "Paternoster Beads" chapter of the invaluable and weighty tome Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, I ran across a couple of exceptions which I thought were worth noting..

One is "a rosary of silver-gilt with jet gauds, bequeathed by Roger Elmsley, once servant to a London wax-chandler, in his will of 1434."

The other is a set of beads of amber with gauds of chalcedony, one among the many sets of beads left by Maria of Hungary, widow of Charles II of Naples, at her death in 1323.

* * * * * * * *

I can't produce a statistical table of which materials are paired with what, since I only have anecdotal evidence from what other authors have chosen to mention in their discussions, but I can at least note what combinations I've observed. Here's a brief list of the materials and combinations mentioned in that chapter, in my estimate of social rank from lowest to highest.

WOOD: Gauds usually of wood, but one with silver gilt, one unusual set with enamelled gold.

BONE: Gauds of the same, or perhaps glass.

GLASS: Gauds of the same, one mention of silver gilt.

MOTHER OF PEARL: One mention, with markers of coral.

AGATES: Gauds of the same, one mention of silver gilt.

JET: Gauds of rock crystal, silver gilt, or of gold and pearls.

AMBER: Gauds of amber, of coral, of pearls, and of gold.

CORAL: Gauds of silver, of silver gilt and of gold.

ROCK CRYSTAL:One mention, with gauds of gold.

SILVER: Gauds of the same, or of silver gilt; also sets of beads all of silver gilt.

GOLD: anything goes, gauds of pearls, of enameled gold, of balas rubies and sapphires.

PEARLS: Interestingly, gold and pearls seem to rank about equally: we see beads of gold with gauds of pearls, and also beads of pearls with gauds of gold.

The rule of thumb, then, seems to hold up fairly well, but not universally. It's possible that there are special explanations for the recorded exceptions: the jet gauds on a silver-gilt paternoster might have been imported Spanish jet from Compostela, rather than native Whitby jet, hence more valuable because of their special association with the shrine. The chalcedony gauds on an amber rosary might have been pure white chalcedony during a time when this was an exceedingly fashionable stone in royal circles. But of course we'll never know. (And no one says medieval people have to obey my rules anyway!)

Finally, there's some indication that having valuable gauds was indeed a period attitude. Some verses that Pierre Desrey added to his 1510 edition of Olivier de la Marche's La Triomphe des Dames (quoted in Lightbown) give us at least Pierre's attitude:
"...And paternosters ought to have fair marker beads of gold, or else beads all of gold in their substance, and enamelled on gold with *rouge cler* [a particularly expensive type of red enamel]. You must not stint your treasure on them, for there ought to be some signal difference in the marker beads."