The Workshops that Produced Gothic Boxwood Miniatures

Pete Dandridge and Lisa Ellis

While we know little about the workshop structure that supported the production of the prayer beads and altarpieces, the finesse the artist(s) brought to the carving of the majority of the reliefs is superlative. The quality and complexity of the shells enveloping the prayer beads’ reliefs signal the wonders within; however, that symbiosis does not seem to carry over to the joinery found in the architectural surrounds of the altarpieces. Such a noticeable variation in the standard of carving suggests different hands either within a single workshop or across collaborating studios in a model similar to that employed in the production of large-scale altarpieces.

Decade Rosary, Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Detail showing an inset roundel carved in relief from an ave bead. The rosary contains 74 roundels: each of the ten ave beads houses five and the paternoster, a remarkable twenty four. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016
Decade Rosary, Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Detail showing an inset roundel carved in relief from an ave bead. The rosary contains 74 roundels: each of the ten ave beads houses five and the paternoster, a remarkable twenty four. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016

 

What is more difficult to understand is the subtle variation in style and technique in the finer reliefs. Are they the natural evolution of a maturing artist responding to stylistic changes, the challenges of a unique commission, another carver entirely, or variations within a workshop? The visual analyses integrated into this study, including micro CT technology and associated software, can provide a framework for these fundamental questions about these enthralling objects.

Decade rosary, Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016
Decade rosary, Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016

This essay excerpted from Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures.

The online catalogue raisonné and digital photography made possible through the generous support of Thomson Works of Art