The Catholic Church has long been known for its extravagance and lavishly designed churches. The Gothic style of architecture that was prevalent in Europe from the 12th-16th centuries was beautiful, haunting, and intricate – and that style was translated into Gothic boxwood miniatures by some very talented artists.
The early 1500s saw the emergence of a new trend for the very wealthy in Northern Europe. Artists of extraordinary talent began using the otherwise ornamental boxwood plant to carve tiny religious scenes into prayer beads, some barely two inches across.
The carved scenes may be small, but they are packed with detail so minute that some parts can barely be seen with the naked eye. There are tiny thorns on the forehead of Christ, camels and other animals, and layers and layers of people and faces to build up the backgrounds. They tell stories from the Bible, scenes meant to remind the person viewing them of a specific lesson or moral.
These beautiful 16th-century wood carvings disappeared almost as quickly as they came into fashion. So who made these works of art? And what do we know about them today, using our modern technology?