Thursday, June 23, 2005

Beads and the Babe

There are a fair number of medieval images of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus that show rosary beads of one sort or another. I find it mildly amusing (and sweet) that in these pictures, the Infant is often playing with the string of beads -- as in this anonymous 16th-century painting:

Both hands MI00234E12a

Of course this is wildly anachronistic and incongruous, considering that Christian prayer beads didn't exist for several hundred years after Christ's death.

But the pictures are interesting even so. For one thing, they often give us a good look at a string of beads and how it's put together. It's also clear that a lot of the painters are acquainted with real babies and how they love to play with things.

Madonna im Erker


My irreverent sense of humor points out that I haven't yet seen one where the Infant is trying to hang beads over his mother's ear, or chew on them -- both of these being classic baby behavior! -- but of course the Son of God and Savior of the World is much too dignified to do anything like that! :)

From a practical point of view, when I was making my first historical rosaries, I found one of Ambrogio Fossano's Virgin and Child portraits gave me a very good idea of how much "slack" thread to include in the loop of beads.

Child and string

We tend to assume in modern times that beads should be strung quite close with little thread showing, but clearly that's not the fashion for the 15th-century rosary shown here.

Childbeads Fossano

The extra thread makes it quite easy to slide the beads along one by one as each prayer is said, keeping track of one's place.

Here's my string for comparison. (Dyed stone and glass beads, silk thread, wooden end-bead):

Black and white