Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Statuesque II

In my previous post, Statuesque, I showed examples of two statues of people with rosaries -- one in ivory, one in alabaster. This time I have two statues that are both wood, but that take very different approaches in how they show the beads.

This first example is Saint Mary Magdalene -- you can tell it's her, because she always has some sort of little jar or container with her, representing the jar of ointment with which a repentant woman anointed Jesus's feet. (In the medieval mind, the Gospel stories of the woman taken in adultery, the woman who anointed Christ's feet and Mary the sister of Lazarus were all about the same person, despite the fact that the women in the first two stories are not named.)

WoodMagdalen WoodMagdalen-beads

Mary Magdalene also has some sort of association with the rosary, though I haven't been able to figure out exactly what. She is sometimes shown wearing one, but not always. But for some reason, she always shows up in image searches (for instance in Bildindex) using keywords related to rosaries, even when she's not actually wearing one.

This particular statue is carved in oak, a relatively dense and hard wood, and dates from around 1530. It's a little under three feet tall and is in the Archbishop's Museum in Utrecht. It was probably carved in the Cleves or Geldern area not too far away.

Most of Mary Magdalene's beads are not fully carved in the round, but are shown in relief against the surface of her gown. Compared to the last two examples and the next, they're on the small side -- maybe only half the diameter of her fingers, which would translate to 1/2 inch or so on a real-life person. The beads are very finely carved, even, and smooth, and you can clearly see that they come in two sizes (regular Ave beads and larger gauds). I would not be surprised to find there's more detail on the large round pomander at the bottom than we can see in this photo.

By contrast, we have a remarkably conceited-looking pilgrim here, who is carrying a rosary as part of her essential pilgrim-equipment.

walnut pilgrim

It's probably okay that she looks so conceited, since she is a saint: Saint Reneldis (various spellings), from the late 7th century, who became a nun in what is now Belgium after making a seven-year pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

(Biographical diversion: Reneldis's sister Gudula and brother Emebert are also saints, and their mother is Saint Amalberga, who is supposed -- in order to spread the Word of God -- to have crossed a lake riding on two sturgeons. Reneldis and others were killed by raiding Huns, and so in art, she is sometimes depicted with Huns dragging her by her hair.)

At any rate, Reneldis has a truly splendid set of wooden beads over her arm, and unlike Mary Magdalen's, almost half of them are completely free-carved, not attached to any backing. Early 20th-century photos of the statue are missing this portion of the beads, though, so what you see here is a modern restoration. But the beads shown against her gown are originals, and the restorers seem to have done a good job of matching them.

If I am deciphering the Flemish language in the description correctly, this statue is also carved of oak. It's an early 16th-century piece by the Master of Elsloo and was probably made in Limburg. It's 86 cm tall (about three feet). There is a detail photo online in which you can see that these are very big beads, nearly twice the diameter of the lady's fingers. Note also that there seem to be about four decades of beads, plus several small beads between the join and the cross.