Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Lozenges, flowers & sabots

While re-reading recently the "Paternoster Beads" chapter of the invaluable and weighty tome Medieval European Jewellery by Ronald Lightbown, I ran across a number of descriptions of shapes of beads -- that is, shapes other than plain rounds and ovals, which seem to be the most common in surviving medieval or Renaissance rosaries.

These are mostly incidental citations from the documents of royalty, nobles and very wealthy people in the 15th century, which means that they don't enable us to say anything statistical, and don't tell us a lot about how popular various shapes were among more ordinary people. However it's still interesting information.

For the most part, these other-shaped beads are the gauds or marker beads, which often tend to be more expensive and sophisticated than the other beads (the "Aves").

However two shapes are specifically mentioned for Ave beads as well: lozenges and acorns . I'm not sure whether "lozenge" shaped means flat and diamond-shaped, or (I suspect this is more likely) beads of a double-cone or double-pyramid shape.

In the same way, several paternosters with "square" gauds are also mentioned, but it's hard to say whether this means flat squares or cubes. Since I make a fair number of glass-bead paternosters to give away, I would like these to be cubes, because, with the double-pyramids, this would give me two more possible shapes of glass beads that I can actually document and use, and I like variety . But I can't really be sure.

"Ribbed" gauds are mentioned, and I'm inclined to think this might refer to what are now called "melon" beads -- round or oval beads with ribs or lobes.

As for other shapes, I suspect that "olive-shaped" gauds are merely ovals, and "oblong faceted" beads I would expect to be ovals with a few facets -- perhaps straight facets, perhaps "twisted" like the beads I used for my little "St. Christopher" German-style beads.

There is also a portrait of René of Anjou, King of Jerusalem and Sicily (ca. 1460) which shows him, rather dimly (it's a dark picture) holding a string of very large beads, some of which are cylinder-shaped.

(or a larger view)

King René's personal badge or emblem, by the way, was a paternoster, and apparently paternoster-making was one of his hobbies. He often wore paternoster beads on his hat, and is recorded as buying, making and giving away quite a number of paternosters as personal favors.

For the really exotic shapes, here are the ones mentioned:
- Ears of grain
- Green and white flowers
- Broom-cods (seed pods of the broom plant)
- hearts
- sabots (!!)
- marguerites (daisies, a common badge for ladies
named Margaret)
- heads of John the Baptist (!)

There is also one truly peculiar paternoster mentioned, and by the way, in this case the "squares" are clearly flat, since they're described as having two sides. It's described in Lightbown as follows:

"In 1379-80 Louis of Anjou had a set of twenty-one
gold paternoster beads of very capricious design.
They were small and square, with concave sides;
on one side they were enamelled with chequer-
work like a board for chess, on the other with
chequer-work like a board for tables [checkers?].
To each of their corners was riveted a tiny pearl.
Threaded among them as gauds were seven little
flasks of gold, decorated with traceried medallions
in openwork, and all twenty-eight pieces were
separated from each other by long gold pipes,
enamelled in rouge cler [a particularly
expensive red enamel] and white."