Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Bishop's beads: a terrestial sphere

Bishop Jakob, part 3

Previous posts in this series:
The beads of Bishop Jakob
The Bishop's beads: a celestial sphere

The biggest of these beads, as we saw in the last post, was engraved to represent a celestial sphere. The next bead (#10) is clearly a "terrestrial" sphere, showing continents and oceans in a more or less familiar fashion. I at first thought we were looking at Eurasia and a rather fragmentary Africa in this closeup view, but comparing it with other views, it appears those are on the other side of the globe, where they appear in something close to their actual outlines. This view, then, is probably supposed to be North and South America, with the southeastern parts of North America rather enlarged and bulgy and a number of vague island-like things that are probably supposed to be Caribbean islands and bits of the South American continent.


Frustratingly, in a very close view it's clear that the continents have lettering all over them, but I can't read any of it with one exception: down near the South Pole a large peninsula of the southern continent (now Antarctica, but I don't know if that was actually known yet) is appropriately labeled TERRA INC?G?TA -- almost certainly "terra incognita" (unknown land). (Yeah, I know. Big help.)

Two inscriptions in the southern ocean area say ___BERANV? SIVE CAPRIC___, which I would expect to have something to do with the Tropic of Capricorn, and CIRCVLVM INSVLA ("circle of the island"?), which I can't make any sense of offhand. You could say I'm out of my depth here :)

There is also lettering around the Antarctic Circle, similar to what we saw on the other bead, but only a letter here and there is readable -- I'm not even entirely certain which way up the letters are. I think I can see a T, a space, and what might be VM, but nothing is recognizable.


Aha! I had this post all drafted when it occurred to me to check one more source: the catalog (500 Jahre Rosenkranz) to the 1975 rosary exhibition in Cologne, Germany. Yes, there is a bit more information, and most notably, the name of the artist who engraved these beads: Antonio Spano.

The Pierpont Morgan Library in New York has another small ivory globe engraved by Spano (no picture online that I can find, unfortunately) dating from 1593. Spano signed his name on that globe "Antonius Spano tropiensis," the last word giving his home city as Tropes (near Naples). He was granted a pension by King Philip II of Spain in 1595 and died in Spain in 1615 -- which, if nothing else, tells us that Bishop Jakob's beads must pre-date that. And they might very well date from before his installation as bishop in 1604.

Hmmm. Spano signed the Morgan Library globe just below the Antarctic Circle. I wonder if the lettering in that location on Bishop Jakob's bead is his signature here too?

What can be seen of the engravings on the other beads is rather cryptic. What I can see on Bead #9 looks like land and water areas with a lot of "lollipop" shaped trees. This could represent the separation into land and water areas in Genesis 1:9, or more likely (considering what's on the next bead) this could be the creation of plants (Genesis 1:11): "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."

Bead #8 has a very clear sun with long rays near its "north" end, which could represent the verses about the creation of sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:16): "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also." In one of the other photos, the other side of this bead appears to be engraved with a field of stars.

The rest of the description of these beads from 500 Jahre Rosenkranz doesn't provide a whole lot more detail. It says:
Elfenbeinperlern mit Darstellungen aus den Prophetien der Karsamstagsliturgie, Erschaffung der Welt, Sündenfall, Arche Noe und anderen alttestamentlichen Szenen; gravierter Haltering; Credocreuz mit Maria und den vier Evangelisten.

Rough translation:
"Ivory beads with interpretations of the prophetic readings(?) of the Holy Saturday (Easter) liturgy: the Creation of the World, the Fall, Noah's Ark and other Old Testament scenes; [also] an engraved end-ring, [and] a Credo cross with Mary and the four Evangelists."

This doesn't actually give a whole lot more details for "decoding" the scenes on the remaining beads, but it does mention that Noah's Ark and the Garden of Eden are in there somewhere. Which means we don't have to look for an exact correspondence between each bead and one of the seven Days of Creation: the interpretation of "stories from Genesis" gives a lot more latitude.


Beads #7, 6, 5, and 4 are very hard to decode from these photos, although there is at least one pair of human legs on bead #4 -- they look as though they might be climbing a ladder. That might be the construction of Noah's Ark. There are also people visible on beads #3 and 2. I'm willing to believe there are engravings of Mary and the Evangelists on the cross, but I can't see any more than faint traces of engravings in any of the photos.

The punchline (if I can call it that) to this long description is: these are the only photos I've found of this piece, and we really can't tell very much from them. Unless someone else can point me to more photos somewhere, it sounds rather as though I'm going to have to track this paternoster down myself and take my own photos.

The good news is that it looks as though that's going to be possible in March. I'm currently planning a research trip to Germany for the last two weeks of March, and I *think* I am going to be able to get to Konstanz, which is where these beads probably still are. (I'll check first, of course.)

Labels: ,