Renaissance jewellery was both decorative and functional. Rosary beads were used as memory aids for saying a series of prayers dedicated to the Virgin Mary. When not in use, they could be worn around the neck or waist. Even very religious people who shunned bodily adornment approved of rosary beads. During the Reformation, the practice fell out of favour in the Protestant countries but it remained popular among Catholics.
This spherical bead from the Waddesdon bequest in the British Museum is carved on the outside with Gothic architectural detail, while the interiors are carved variously with scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament. This boxwood rosary bead is only 2 5/8 inches (6.7cm) in diameter
The upper half is fitted with two doors, carved on both the inner and outer panels, which open to reveal the Crucifixion, crowded with miniscule figures in high relief.
The lower half is fitted with one door, carved on both sides and opening to reveal a complex scene showing the Bearing of the Cross.
|The Bearing of the Cross|
The achievement of these perspectives in both low relief and in high relief attests to the great skill of the craftsman, who probably had to work using a magnifying glass.
The word, ‘rosary’ is derived from the Latin rosarium, meaning a ‘garland of roses’ or ‘rose garden’, and denotes a set of prayer beads or the devotional prayer itself. A rosary provides a physical method of keeping track of the number of prayers said and is used in many religions for this purpose and also for meditation and even to relieve stress.
With kind permission from The British Museum