Object Place: Europe, Southern Germany
65.5 cm (25 13/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Silver, silver gilt, amber, painted ivory, and glass
Alyce Morrissey Gallery (Kunstkammer) (Gallery 143)
During the Middle Ages, rosaries were used by the religious orders and lay public to assist in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Known as paternoster beads, each strand consisted of 150 beads-one bead representing a Psalm. By the mid-twelfth century, prayer beads were also used in the recital of Ave Marias, a practice deemed particularly suitable for women. In 1268, the Dominican Order sanctioned the mingling of Pater Nosters and Aves on rosaries and by the fourteenth century, fifty Aves, in groups of ten separated by a larger paternoster, Gloria bead, or gaud, were a common arrangement.
The materials used in rosaries range from humble organic substances, such as bone, to precious metals and gemstones. During the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, amber was especially prized, largely because of its perceived talismanic powers and its warm, tactile quality. In this example, there are five decades of large faceted amber beads for the Aves which are separated by sixty-one smaller amber beads. Five silver filigree beads mark the beginning of each decade and a circular filigree medallion suspended from a silver wirework cross and three large, faceted amber beads complete the rosary. At the center of circular pendant is a gilt silver medallion featuring the Coronation of the Virgin. The inscription Patrona Bavaria is located along the right perimeter of the medal while a profile image of a saint holding a lily and the Christ child appear on reverse. In the middle of the second and fourth decades are two, silver filagree gauds. The larger one incorporates a miniature of a nun wearing a black and white habit on the front and an image of Saint Veronica’s Veil (with the face of Christ) on reverse. The smaller gaud has a central, oval medallion of gilt silver with images of the seated Madonna and child on both front and back.
Completing this rosary is a circular gilt-silver filigree medallion featuring the Coronation of the Virgin suspended from a silver wirework cross and three large, faceted amber beads. The inscription “Patrona Bavaria” (patroness of Bavaria) appears along the medal’s right edge, indicating the jewel’s or the wearer’s place of origin. The cult of Mary was especially strong in Bavaria, the heartland of the German Counter-Reformation. A profile image of a saint holding both a lily and the Christ Child appears on the back of the medal.3 Two silver filigree gauds adorn the middle of the second and fourth decades. The front of the larger gaud shows a nun wearing a black-and-white habit; the back shows Saint Veronica’s Napkin with the face of Christ. The smaller gaud has a central, oval medallion of gilt silver with images of the seated Madonna and Child on both the front and the back.
Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Rosary” in Artful Adornments: Jewelry from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Yvonne J. Markowitz (Boston: MFA Publications, 2011), 40-41.
1902, bequest of William Arnold Buffum to the MFA.
Bequest of William Arnold Buffum