Friday, September 08, 2006

Crystal gazing II

In my last post, Crystal Gazing, I was taking a close look at an interesting and complex rock-crystal paternoster I discovered while browsing through the Schnutgen Museum collection on Bildindex.

I was in rather a hurry, and I realize I missed a few points.

First, here's how I'm interpreting the structure of these beads -- as near as one can tell from a photo, that is. This is supposed to be a cross-section through a single bead as strung on the original cord. I don't know whether it's correct, but it's my best guess.


I forgot to mention a date for this piece. The museum label says it is 17th century: as usual, there's no indication of who determined this or on the basis of what evidence, if any. I am not an art expert, but it looks earlier than that to me -- be that as it may.

And I forgot to say anything about size. A couple of the beads were photographed with a ruler, which looks like it is marked in millimeters (it's not labeled). If that's so, it would indicate the largest bead of this series is a little over an inch across.


Now back to the beads. (I'm showing you all the photos, enhanced as best I can, but in order to see the details, you will probably have to click on the photos to see the enlarged version: at least, you will if you have eyes like mine!)

Only two of the ten beads in this rock-crystal paternoster have scenes related to Christ, Mary or Biblical stories. All the others show saints -- at least, all the ones that can be deciphered.

Each face of each of the remaining eight beads seems to show two saints, most of them in a standing position, and the painter has thoughtfully identified each one for us with a vertical ribbon bearing the saint's name. Many, but not all, of the pairs have a male saint on the left as we look at the bead (in heraldry this "dexter" position is the position of greater status) and a woman saint on the right.

Besides the name labels, many of the saints bear recognizable symbols. There is a fairly universal "code" of these symbols in medieval Europe, which specifies that many popular saints are always shown holding or carrying some particular object. This makes them easy to identify even for the illiterate, or where they aren't so thoughtfully labeled.

Since we've already discussed beads 10 and 9, I'll start with bead 8 and make a few comments. Bildindex has photos of both faces of all the beads, which I've cleaned up as much as I can to show here.


Side 8.1: Saints Peter and Veronica. Less clear, but Saint Peter has his keys and Saint Veronica is displaying her napkin, on which the face of Christ is imprinted. (In legend, this occurred when she offered her napkin to wipe Christ's face on his way to the Crucifixion.)

8.1 8.2

Side 8.2: Saints Andrew and Margaret. If you squint, you can more or less see that Saint Andrew is carrying some large pieces of wood, which constitute his distinctive X-shaped cross. Saint Margaret is standing on (actually emerging from) a dragon, whose head you can see below her to the left. Considering that legend says she was swallowed by the dragon and then burst out by splitting the dragon's stomach open, the dragon looks remarkably lively!


7.1: Saints (?) and Dorothy. Saint Dorothy very clearly has her basket of roses (from heaven), but the male saint of this pair is rather obscure. We'll get back to him in a minute.

JamesDor-e13a JonCath-f11a

7.2: Saints John (?) and Catherine. Catherine has her spiked wheel beside her. But which John is this? The museum curators suggest it's Saint John the Evangelist (author of the Gospel of John).

A plausible guess is that this ought to be John the Evangelist, based on the conventional order in which the twelve Apostles of Christ are named: Peter, Andrew, James, John. Bead 8 has Peter and Andrew, making it reasonable that the next bead would have James and John. This would make the "mystery man" on side 1 of this bead Saint James the Greater, and that's who I think it is. There isn't much visible through the glare, but I think he is wearing his distinctive pilgrim's hat, although we can't see whether he has the pilgrim's staff, drinking gourd and scallop shell that go with it. John, on side 2, is standing with his mouth open (preaching?) and clasps a scroll in his right hand. If he had any of John the Evangelist's other emblems nearby (an eagle, a chalice, or a cauldron of boiling oil!), that would clinch the identification.


6.1: Saint Bartholomew and Saint Mary Magdalen. Because I already know what it looks like, I can see Saint Bartholomew's broad-bladed butcher's knife in his right hand -- legend says he was flayed alive. I actually don't see the alabaster jar of ointment that I would expect Mary Magdalen to be carrying, but her name is quite clear. Legend identifies Mary of Magdala with the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, although more modern scholars think they were probably two different women.

Bart-Mag-e12a PhilUrs-10a

6.2: Saints Philip and Ursula. Saint Philip has his cross-topped staff. Saint Ursula is wearing a crown -- legend has it that she was a king's daughter -- although I can't see whether she has any other attributes or not. She is often shown either with arrows (by which she was supposed to have been martyred) or with a few of the 11,000 other maidens supposedly martyred with her. Clearly they would not all fit on this small bead!


All of these things would probably be a lot clearer if I had these beads in my hand and could tilt them back and forth to see what's under the spots of glare. If the paintings are in color, that would help too. Since I'm hoping my next research trip will be to Germany, these are on my list of artifacts I'd like to see and photograph close up.

I'll try to disentangle the rest of the saints in the next post.
(to be continued...)