Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Loops, drapes and dangles:

Wearing rosaries, part 5

Yet another way of wearing a medieval rosary, as we can see from period paintings, is to have it somehow looped around or pinned to one's shoulder or neckline. This seems to be mostly something women do -- I don't recall seeing any male examples yet, though of course I'm always interested in new evidence, whether it shows that I'm right or not!

The best example I have of this is a depiction of Saint Hedwig of Silesia, an illustration in an illuminated manuscript from the 1350s (specifically, the Hedwigs Codex from 1353: Ludwig Collection, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen).

Saint Hedwig of Silesia

Saint Hedwig has a somewhat unusual rosary -- it's a straight string of beads rather than the usual looped form. The beads are irregular in size and shape, and don't seem to be in consistent number groups. This is perhaps not surprising, since it's well before the "codification" of the five-decade rosary a century or so later. At the end is a tassel, and it's shown hanging down, possibly fastened to a brooch at the edge of her cloak -- which is a square, decorated version of the common ring brooch so universally used on cloaks and outer garments.

Saint Hedwig seems to have her hands quite full: she's trying to hold both her book (with a finger to keep her place) and her rosary with one hand, while the other is reaching up to grasp something just below her collar. Her fingers are curled around whatever it is, and I actually think it's the upper part of her string of beads, which appears to lead to figures of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus at the front of her neckline.

At first I thought Saint Hedwig was symbolically holding Mary and Jesus, in the same way Saint Anne (the Virgin Mary's mother) is often shown with both Mary and the infant Jesus (drawn rather small) on her lap. But my guess is that in this picture, the artist intended to show Saint Hedwig's rosary anchored at the upper end by an elaborately sculpted brooch of these two figures. One reason I think so is the lack of modeling and color on these figures, quite different from Hedwig's own face which is both colored and shaded to show its roundness. (Though this may just be due to their small size.)

The second really clear portrait I have is this one, which I wish was more widely published because it's so lovely. This is the "Muttergottes mit der Wickenblüte" or "Mother of God with the Pea Blossom," by an unknown artist called the Master of Köln (Cologne, Germany), painted in the first half of the 1400s.

Madonna der Wickenblute

In this overview, it's hard to see exactly what the relationship is between the string of gold beads, the little dangling purse and the round pin that Mary is wearing at the center front neckline of her gown. I was lucky enough to find a detail of this portrait (in black and white, unfortunately) which shows the connection much more clearly:

Wickenblute detail

Here you can see that the string of beads is directly attached to the pin -- and if it's anachronistic to see the Infant Jesus playing with a rosary, it's at least as out of place to see the Virgin Mary wearing a brooch that says "IHC" (a version of the more familiar "IHS" abbreviaton for Jesus).

It's harder to see whether, or how, the little purse is attached, since at least in this photo, I can see only one of its strings, and from the way it's hanging it must have two. It may be attached somewhere near where the Infant is holding the strings. This purse is too small to hold the beads, so the speculation usually is that it contains the relics of saints (another anachronism!) or something else of value.

In the 15th century, by the way, these anachronisms don't seem to have bothered anyone. They served much the same purpose as modern illustrations of Jesus playing basketball with children -- to indicate the continuing (though usually invisible) presence of Christ in "modern" life.

The last picture I have to show is a dim and not very detailed one, but I think it may show something interesting. It's this one, which is a detail of the background from a painting we've already seen:


The lady in this picture seems to have some sort of large loop over her shoulder and hanging below her arm. It's far too vague and too small a detail to place much reliance on, but I wonder if she has her arm through a large rosary -- perhaps pinned to her shoulder?

I have a few more details of people wearing rosaries, which I'll post in a few days, but most of them are examples of things we've already talked about. And I'll keep my eyes open for more.

posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?