About this website

Intimate in scale and impossibly intricate in design, sixteenth-century miniature boxwood carvings have baffled the curious since the time they were made. Through the joint effort of the curatorial and conservation staff of the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Rijksmuseum, the long-held secrets of the construction of these tiny treasures have been discovered and their histories uncovered in preparation for the 2016– 2017 exhibition Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures.

Small Wonders focuses on two great North American collections of sixteenth-century boxwood carvings that were formed a century apart: the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Morgan Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron of Fleet (1923–2006) and J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) shared a passion for works of art that were formed at the intersection of faith and invention, the same point of departure that we used for our research and writing.

This website presents the original research published in 2016 by both the AGO and the Rijksmuseum, additional resources for researchers and teachers, and a complete catalogue raisonné featuring stunning new photography. Typically, a catalogue raisonné is a complete listing of a single artist’s work accompanied by detailed notes that help us to understand their complete body of work. This catalogue raisonné assembles, for the first time, every known example of these carvings—but who exactly made them remains a mystery.

Ken Thomson wanted the public to be inspired, as he was, by the limitless potential for human creativity. We offer our deepest gratitude to his family for pursuing his vision and for generously supporting the AGO’s boxwood photography campaign, a book and this online catalogue raisonné. After five years of research and collaboration we can now say with confidence how sixteenth-century miniature boxwood carvings were made, but the wonder that they inspire has only increased. 

We consider it a privilege to have worked so collaboratively across departments and institutions. It is essential to acknowledge the late Dr. Susan J. Romanelli, whose 1992 dissertation for Columbia University first considered sixteenth-century boxwood miniatures as an ensemble. We would like to thank Dr. Frits Scholten and Arie Wallert at the Rijksmuseum and Dr. Evelin Wetter at the Abegg Stiftung for taking an early interest in our investigation, which began with X-radiographs courtesy of Heidi Sobol at the Royal Ontario Museum. Dr. Andrew Nelson of the University of Western Ontario and Dr. Rhonda Bathurst of the Sustainable Archaeology Centre have been staggeringly generous in providing access and support for the micro CT scanning process and the subsequent 3D modeling of the objects. Our curatorial and conservation colleagues across North America and Europe helped to facilitate similar analysis of their own works for our benefit: Dr. Joaneath Spicer, Julie Lauffenberger, and Glen Gates at the Walters Museum in Baltimore; Coleen Snyder at the Cleveland Museum of Art; The Duke of Devonshire, Ciara Gallagher and Matthew Hirst of Chatsworth House, Blakewell UK; Annie Kemkaren-Smith and Sarah Moulden of the Wernher Collection English Heritage, London UK; Dr. Elisabeth Antoine, Christine Duvauchelle and Laurent Creuzet of the Louvre in Paris. Allowing us to literally see through these objects were the following micro CT specialists: Chris Peitsch, Chesapeake Testing in Belcamp, Maryland; Richard Rauser, NASA Glenn Research Center, Ohio; Dan Sykes at the Imaging and Analysis Centre, Natural History Museum, London UK; and Antoine Balzeau, Gaël Clément and Miguel Garcia of AST-RX, Musée d’histoire naturelle, in Paris. The Objects Research Systems team, including Zixiong Cao, Eric Fournier, Mark Mailloux, and Norman Mongeau, have given support for the use of their groundbreaking 3D software. At the AGO, Craig Boyko and Ian Lefebvre travelled far and wide and developed the highest standard for photographing these carvings consistently for the very first time. Their work creates opportunities for a new generation of scholars to study these sculptures afresh while giving our audiences the opportunity to look at the objects more closely.

For assistance in all aspects of this publication and exhibition, we thank especially Dr. Angela Glover and Adam Levine of the AGO, and Christine McDermott of The Met Cloisters. For key aspects of research on the formation of the collections, we thank Christine Brennan and Hannah Korn of The Met, and Ingmar Reesing of the Rijksmuseum. Finally, Annick Lapôtre and David Franklin provided unflagging support for our work with the Thomson Collection.

For their essential contributions to this website, we thank our talented colleagues across many AGO departments. In Collections Information: Tracy Mallon-Jensen, Liana Radvak, Joe Venturella, and Olga Zotova; Education: Judy Koke, Mark McKay, Carolyn Swartz and Bob Phillips; Image Resources: Sean Weaver; Information Technology: Naser Farzinfar; New Media: Cristina Dias, James Harrison, Katherine Nip, Tharan Parameshwaran, Tyrone Thompson; and Publishing: Gina Badger and Jim Shedden.

For their embrace of Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures and their belief in this project’s importance, we thank the AGO’s lead supporters, Maxine Granovsky Gluskin and Ira Gluskin. For their generous support, we also thank Hans and Susan Brenninkmeyer, David G. Broadhurst, Nancy Lockhart and The Murray Frum Foundation, The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation, and Anthony and Helen Graham. At The Met, the exhibition was made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.

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