Beginning in the 15th century, Dutch craftsman carved incredibly detailed biblical scenes into pieces of wood that could fit in one’s pocket. These miniature creations were mostly made for an elite clientele that included royalty, whose own portraits often formed part of the design.
This boxwood rosary bead, which is part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters museum, was carved in the Netherlands in the early 16th century. Less than three inches in diameter, the bead opens on hinges to form a triptych made up of intricately carved scenes from the Bible. The Dutch woodworkers who created it must have used magnifying glasses and the tiniest of instruments to create this miniature world.
On the left the Journey to Bethlehem and the Nativity are pictured; in the center is the Journey of the Magi and the Adoration of the infant Jesus; and at the right is the Presentation of the Child in the Temple at Jerusalem.
In the lower half of the opened bead, we see the Crucifixion of Jesus, and on the outside of the wings covering the top of the bead, Adam and Eve are pictured in the Garden of Eden.
Carved into the scene is the text from Psalm 71:10, written in Latin:
Let us raise our hearts together with our hands to the Lord in heaven (Lamentations 3:41) Attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow (Lamentations 1:12) The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts (Psalm 71:10)
View the slideshow to get a closer view of this amazing object designed to aid the worlds’ most powerful people in their prayer.