Friday, January 12, 2007

More crystal gazing

a short note

I'm always pleased when another example turns up of an unusual type of rosary -- especially when it's something I've spotted, analyzed, and worked out an explanation for myself (and most especially when it turns out I was right!).

This happened recently when someone mentioned to me that there was a beautiful rock crystal rosary on display as part of the Victoria and Albert Museum's recent exhibition, "At Home in Renaissance Italy."

There was indeed, and here's a picture, with a link to the relevant page of the exhibit's website:


This rosary is from 16th-century Italy, and is in the Museo Civico d'Arte Antica e Palazzo Madama, Turin. The brief description on the V&A's page says it is made from rock crystal, painted and gilded, with pearls and gilded silver mounts.

The person who mentioned it to me (thanks, Aurelia!) said she'd found it fascinating because each spherical bead is made from two halves, each of which had images painted on the inside.


This may -- I hope it does -- remind you of my series of posts called "Crystal Gazing" awhile back (listed below). That appeared to be exactly how those beads were constructed, but the photos showed each bead separately, laid flat, so I was able to identify most of the images.

You can't see images very well in this Turin example, just bits of color, but it gives you an idea of how the Marburg photos might look if we could see that one in color too. Wow. I'd love to see details.

It's a bit odd the way it's currently assembled. First of all, it's strung on metal chain, and I doubt this was the original method, which means it's been re-strung. No surprise there: most surviving rosaries have. Most rosaries made with chain are not really strung on the chain, but instead have a wire link through each bead with a loop on each end, which hooks into the next link, making the bead itself part of the chain. This chain, however, looks more as if the beads are simply strung onto it like a thread.

The beads are similar enough to each other that it's likely they all came from the same original, and the cross too looks likely to be from the same source, especially if (as it seems to be) it's been painted in the same way as the beads. However, there's a good possibility the beads are not in their original position or arrangement. The images might give us some hints, if we could identify them. Also, the thirteen beads seen here may or may not be the original number, since many historical pieces have lost some of their parts.

When I first saw a set of beads with 10 in a circle like this, I was certain it was a modern construction, since I haven't seen this sort of thing pictured in historical paintings or diagrams. Most times when you see ten beads, especially large ones, they are in a straight string (called in German a Zehner -- see Counting to Ten). But recently I've seen several more examples, which makes me wonder if this might be a form that dates back further than I thought. More evidence one way or another might be nice.

The arrangement where the loop joins also looks peculiar. My guess is that this may be the remains of a "credo cross," originally five beads arranged as a cross, one having been lost. Whether this was part of the original rosary or whether it's been added as part of the process of reconstructing something plausible, who can say.

As ever, this leaves me itching to see this rosary in person and take lots of well-lit close-up photos to study. Legend has it that all historical costumers wish for the mythical book called "Hey, Lady -- Turn Around!" that shows the back and side views of all the costumes worn in portraits, so we can see exactly how they're constructed. Me, I want to see a mythical book on other artifacts, called, "Hey -- Turn It Over!"

previous posts on a similar rosary:

Crystal Gazing I
Crystal Gazing II
Crystal Gazing III