Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tying one on:

Wearing rosaries, part 3

Probably the most common place to see a rosary in a medieval image is attached to someone's belt. Often we can't see enough detail to determine exactly how it's attached. Women's rosaries in particular seem very often to be "magically" attached to the center front clasp of their girdles, as shown on this brass from the tomb of Lettys Terry (d. 1524, Norwich, St. John Maddermarket).

Overbelt-2 Womanbrass

One possibility is that a rosary can be tied onto a belt with a separate piece of ribbon or string, as in the diagram below. This has the advantage that it's not difficult to remove the rosary for prayer or to re-attach it afterwards. It's also a more secure attachment than if the rosary is merely tucked into the belt (as mentioned in part 2 of this series).


Here's a painting that may show a rosary attached in this fashion. This is a detail from a scene of the Virgin and Child with a crowd of women saints, described in this post. Here we have Saint Agnes wearing a very long, extravagant rosary that is attached to her girdle and reaches to the hem of her gown. We can tell this is Agnes, by the way, because she's holding a lamb, Saint Agnes's symbol.

In the upper left corner you can also see something hanging from the girdle of Saint Barbara (whom we recognize because of the pattern of towers on her gown), though since whatever it is is dark beads against a dark gown, it's hard to see exactly what's happening. It does look rather like a linear rosary, but could be just a decorative string of beads.


Sometimes it almost seems as though portrait artists have schemed through the centuries to confound modern viewers, especially those of us who are interested in the details of clothing and accessories. Historical costumers joke that the book they really want is titled Hey, Lady -- Turn Around! and shows the backs of the people being portrayed, so we can see how their clothes are really put together!

Unfortunately, this holds for portraits with rosaries, too. At least half the portraits that show women with center-front rosaries have the woman's hands in front, right where we'd expect the rosary to be attached, so we can't see the details. In some cases, like these below, it's hard to even tell whether the rosaries are attached or whether they are just being held.

Here is a 16th-century Dutch painting -- unknown artist, anonymous sitters, currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Nice beads, though!

MFA rosary

And this is a portrait of Catherine Pole from 1546. I think her rosary is attached to her girdle, though it's really hard to tell.

Catherine Pole 1546

Finally, just for a change, here's a woman who's wearing her beads on the back of her belt. Her rather undignified posture is because she is -- as evidence of her devotion -- about to crawl underneath the shrine of Saint Agilolph, in search of healing. This detail is from a panel from the altarpiece of Saint Agilolph (painted in Antwerp, 1521), formerly in the church of Sankt Maria ad Gradus and now in the Metropolitan Chapter of the Hohen Domkirche, Cologne.


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?