Among the more than 130 miniature boxwood carvings that have survived, this is the only diptych. While the subjects are not unusual, the inscriptions are particularly complex, drawing on the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and other theologians.
By tradition, it is said that this piece belonged to Queen Christina of Spain in the nineteenth century. It may reflect her Habsburg ancestors’ taste for miniature boxwood carvings from the Netherlands, a territory they ruled at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
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Title:Diptych with the Nativity and the Mass of Saint Gregory
Inscription: (left panel, right edge): regnu[m] tenvi v[ir]ginitat[is] et regem genvi […]tatis [should be castitatis] hec [should be hac] ille [should be illem] (I maintained a kingdom of virginity and by this [kingdom] gave birth to that king of chastity)
(left panel, bottom edge): ih[esv]s xus [should be Christus] fili9 [should be filius] d[e]i nascit[ur] beth[lehem] ivd[a]e[a] (Jesus Christ, son of God, is born [in] Bethlehem [in] Judea [from refrain in Sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Advent and Christmas)])
(left panel, starting from left edge and continuing on top edge): Avg9 [should be Auguste] ecce inqvit maria ego te filiu[m] generavi / s3 [should be sed] v[ir]ginitate[m] mea[m] non viola[ba]m (Behold, o sacred [one], says Mary, I produced your son, but I was not defiling my virginity [from Augustine, Sermon on the Annunciation III, Sermon CXCV])
(right panel, right edge): Greg9 [should be Gregorivs] me[m]oria crucifixi vicia [should be vitia] crucifigit b[superscript e] [should be beatus] gregorivs (Gregorius, the memory of the crucified [one] crucifies vices, blessed Gregorius)
(right panel, bottom edge): atte[n]dite [symbol for et] videte si e[st] dol[or] sic dol’ [should be dolor] me[us] (attend and see if there exists pain to such an extent as my pain [Lamentations 1:12])
(right panel, starting from left edge and continuing on top edge): bernard9 [should be Bernardvs] si […]sti [should be vulnera Chrsiti] ad memoriam] revoce[n]tur […] [should be tunc] ni[hi]l est / q[vi]d’ non eq[superscript o] [should be aeqvo] [ani]mo toler[…] [should be toleretur] (Bernard,if the wounds of Christ may be recalled, then there is nothing which should not be tolerated in a calm manner)
Queen Christina of Spain ; Charles Mannheim, Paris (by at least 1898); J. Pierpont Morgan (American), London and New York (until 1917)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece," January 25–April 24, 2016.
Toronto. Art Gallery of Ontario. "Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures," November 5, 2016–January 22, 2017.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures," February 22–May 21, 2017.
Reusens, Edmond Henri Joseph, ed. Exposition Rétrospective d'Art Industriel, Bruxelles 1888: Catalogue Officiel. Brussels: P. Weissenbruch, 1888. no. 1532, p. 265.
Molinier, Emile. Collection Charles Mannheim: Objets d'Art. Paris: s.n., 1898. no. 24, p. 13, ill. unnumbered plate.
Williamson, George Charles. Catalogue of the Collections of Jewels and Precious Works of Art: The Property of J. Pierpont Morgan. Deluxe ed. London: Chiswick Press, 1910. no. 46, pp. 60, 69–70, pl. XXVII, color pl. 20.
Romanelli, Susan J. "South Netherlandish Boxwood Devotional Sculpture 1475–1530." PhD diss., Columbia University, 1992. no. 64, pp. 348–50, fig. 99.
Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Alexandra Suda. "Devotion." In Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, edited by Lisa Ellis, and Alexandra Suda. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016. p. 98.
Dandridge, Pete, and Lisa Ellis. "Making." In Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, edited by Lisa Ellis, and Alexandra Suda. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016. pp. 56–57, 65.
Dandridge, Pete, and Lisa Ellis. "Workshop Practices." In Small Wonders: Late-Gothic Boxwood Micro-Carvings from the Low Countries, edited by Frits Scholten. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2016. p. 521.
Scholten, Frits, ed. Small Wonders: Late-Gothic Boxwood Micro-Carvings from the Low Countries. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2016. no. 46, pp. 320–23, 624.
Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Alexandra Suda. "Handpicked: Collecting Boxwood Carvings from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries." In Small Wonders: Late-Gothic Boxwood Micro-Carvings from the Low Countries, edited by Frits Scholten. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2016. pp. 380–81, fig. 165.
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