Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Praying on (almost) all cylinders

In my recent Lozenges, flowers & sabots posting, I mentioned a rather dark portrait of René d'Anjou with a rosary that seemed to be made of cylindrical beads. I've now found another one -- this one a bit more visible, from a 1510 portrait (also rather dark) by Lucas Cranach (the Elder) of Elector Friederich the Wise of Saxony (1463-1525). (Interestingly, Friedrich is mostly remembered for protecting Martin Luther from the Inquisition!)

Here are the picture and a closeup of the beads, both of which I've lightened up in Photoshop so you can see them better. Click on the photo to see the closeup.

The original photo online is at, the Marburg Photo Archive, which has thousands of images of art from Germany.

About 26 beads are clearly visible (not counting the ones hidden in his hands), plus a drum-shaped ending bead and tassel. The color suggests they might be wood, and at least one spherical marker bead can clearly be seen in front. We can't tell from the way they are lying whether this is a straight string or a loop -- I can only see one thread going into the top of the tassel-bead, but that could be due to the shadows. If the painter was depicting these accurately (which he may or may not have been) this might be a string of 30 (three decades) or 33 beads -- not that I can necessarily say offhand what particular devotions may go with either of those numbers.

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