Saturday, May 17, 2008

Details, details....

Sometimes we're lucky, and someone has published books with BIG pictures of paternoster beads -- like the book with the St. Anthony pictures I was talking about awhile back. But when we're not so lucky, about the only way we can really study depictions of beads in detail is to travel to where the original paintings are and take some closeup photos ourselves. (Then again.... maybe that's a GOOD thing? {grin})

Anyway, since I had the opportunity, I've extracted and enlarged some of the photos I took recently that show details of beads. These are especially for my friends who do reproduction metalwork, some of whom I know (hope?) are contemplating making some of the types of beads and rosary parts that are not to be found on today's market. (Hint, hint!)

I've had an especially hard time finding on the modern market anything like the large, pierced, silver or gold beads, the originals of which were probably pomanders, filled with some fragrance-producing substance. Judging by how common it is to see one of these rosaries with one very large metal bead, these must have been very popular historically. Unfortunately for us, most of them were probably melted down for their precious-metal content when they went out of fashion. Surviving large beads are more likely to have been carved of boxwood or ivory, which don't melt.

But most of what's on the market right now in the way of pierced metal beads is either (1) too small to stand out as gauds on a string of 10mm to 14mm beads, or (2) of some Victorian or Art-Nouveau design that just doesn't look right.

Once in awhile, I'll find some large pierced-metal balls -- especially around Christmas -- but the only difference is that instead of being too small and of the wrong design, those tend to be too big and of the wrong design. They seem to start at about 3 inches in diameter and go up from there. The pomanders I see in paintings seem to be between about an inch and two inches in diameter. (And while I'm at it, I'd wish for reproduction pomanders that were plated base metal rather than solid silver, so they would be somewhat affordable.)

So without further ado, here are some nice details.

This one is from a painting I didn't get a good photo of overall, because the lighting kept creating spots of glare where it reflected off the varnish. (My detail photo isn't completely sharp, either.) Her identity is unknown and so is the name of the artist, but this was clearly half of a pair of marriage portraits. Note that her beads are black, possibly jet.

(As always, click on these photos to enlarge them.)


I've mentioned this one earlier, but here it is enlarged as far as I can:


The by-now-very-familiar-to-me artist Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder painted another pair of these marriage portraits in 1528, this time of a Mr. and Mrs. Pilgrum -- Gerhard Pilgrum and his wife Anna Strauss Pilgrum. (They can easily be identified because their coats of arms are part of the picture.)

I am somewhat embarrassed by this photo. The online photos of these portraits that I was able to find are all extremely dark or very "off" on the colors. I took this in daylight, so the colors are much better. Unfortunately, this pair of portraits is displayed inside a glass case -- which reflects -- and directly facing a large wall of windows, which provides a lot of light to be reflected. I've managed to fade the impression a bit, but you can clearly see a reflection of me taking the photo -- especially since I happened to be wearing a nice, bright white shirt that day. {blush}


I was almost equally embarrassed to suddenly realize while I was there that Bartholomäus Bruyn actually lived and worked in Cologne -- I've seen a number of other "rosary portraits" that he painted, but I hadn't noticed where exactly they were from, since I found them on the Marburg Foto Index, which has things from all over Germany and beyond.

In this case, we get a bonus: not just one, but both members of the pair are holding beads. Here is a closeup of Gerhard's rosary:


And Anna's:


The closeup photos were actually easier to take, because I was able to move in close and block the light from the window behind me.

And finally, another rosary of red coral beads with a gold pomander. Sorry about the blur on this one too. (I've definitely decided after this trip, I hate my camera. I need a different one.)


This is from a portrait thought to be that of Maria Pastoir. Whoever the subject was, she was painted at age 45 in 1538. (Oh, and this photo isn't mine. It's good. ;)

Portrait of a 45-year-old woman

Anyone studying German women's headdresses is going to want to collect all of Bruyn's portraits, because they have very good views of the folded and draped linen constructions popular on respectable heads at the time.

Pictures from Köln:

In living color
More living color
A Joos van Cleve altarpiece
Details, details

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Friday, May 09, 2008

A Joos van Cleve altarpiece

Another of the paintings I saw while in Cologne was this scene showing the Death of the Virgin by Joos van Cleve the Elder, painted in 1515 for a prominent Cologne family's estate chapel.


This was one of the Wallraf-Richartz Museum's "Pictures of the Week" in February 2007, so there is a fairly extensive article on it online here. To summarize briefly: Joos van der Beke, better known as Joos van Cleve the Elder, painted in Antwerp from 1511-1540. The Hacquenay family of Cologne, for whom this was painted, may have originally come from the Netherlands as well. Side wings of the altarpiece show members of the family.

The painting is after a "template" for such scenes developed by Hugo van der Goes. The apostles surround Mary's deathbed. In the center, Saint Peter in Mass vestments leads the rites for the dying, and on the far right margin, Saint Thomas enters the room (according to the curator I was talking with, we know it's Thomas because he's the apostle who's always late for things....). The apostles are not carrying their usual "attributes" (knife, spear, shell, etc.) so otherwise it's hard to tell who's who.

I'm particularly curious about who this fellow is to Peter's right, carrying the holy water bucket, because he's wearing a large rosary around his neck.*


There's another set of beads casually lying on a small bench by Peter's feet, together with an object rather like a gravy boat, which I think contains a supply of incense. Both rosaries are colored like wood, though the beads don't show much detail. Both are rather loosely strung and both seem to have brown-colored cords, suggesting linen or hemp. But the one draped across the bench has a non-matching green tassel, which from the highlights painted into it seems intended to represent silk.


The beads around the bucket-carrying apostle's neck, on the other hand, have a pendant cross, and it's nice to get such a detailed look at a type of cross that may have been used on rosaries. It's more or less the same color as the beads, and since it's painted at an angle, we can also see that the four arms of the cross are all more or less cone-shaped with their points toward the center. It's suspended from the cord by a ring that looks as if it's rigidly fixed, perhaps made in one piece with the cross. The cross could be wood, but the ring suggests it might also be cast metal. (I'm sure I've seen something like this for sale, but at the moment I can't remember where.)

An interesting detail is that the cross is threaded onto the string in the middle of a decade, where you wouldn't necessarily expect to see it. But I've seen a number of rosaries more or less from this era that also carry various medals or charms in the middle of decades. This placement of the cross, if authentic, suggests it is not "counted" as part of the rosary and that no particular prayers are said as you come to its place on the string. This is in contrast to later rosaries, where the Credo is recited while holding the cross. On the other set of beads, however, the tassel comes between two decades and probably marks the starting point for prayers.

I always count the beads in paintings (as you may have noticed if you read this blog regularly) and the results are often interesting. A lot of the bucket-carrying apostle's beads are hidden, but those that are showing seem to be in plausible groups of ten. The beads on the bench definitely look like groups of ten too: we can see two full decades, six beads from the next decade and four beads from another. The loop we can see hanging down on the back side of the bench has two small beads on one side, one on the other, and a large marker bead in the center. Since what's showing on the front is two almost equal groups of beads, this suggests that the loop hanging down the back is probably more or less symmetrical too, making the total four decades.

*Score one for those who point out that historically, people sometimes did wear rosaries around their necks, despite what your Catholic grandmother always told you.

Pictures from Köln:

In living color
More living color
A Joos van Cleve altarpiece
Details, details