Small in scale, yet teeming with life, miniature boxwood carvings have been a source of wonder since their creation in the Netherlands in the 16th century. On these intricately carved objects—some measuring a mere two inches (five centimeters) in diameter—the miracles and drama of the Bible unfold on a tiny stage. The execution of these prayer beads and diminutive altarpieces is as miraculous as the stories they tell.
This exhibition, the first of its kind, features nearly 50 of these tiny treasures. Among the highlights is a complete carved boxwood rosary made for King Henry VIII of England and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, before his notorious efforts to dissolve the marriage and his break from the Catholic Church.
The ingenious techniques of the artists who created these precious panoramas have defied comprehension for centuries. Now, through the joint efforts of conservators at The Met and the Art Gallery of Ontario, the carvers' secrets have at last been revealed.
"Set aside plenty of time to enjoy these small wonders. And don't forget your magnifying glass." —Wall Street Journal
"Breathtakingly intricate" —New York Review of Books
The exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.
It is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
In this MetCollects episode, Barbara Drake Boehm—Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters—discusses the recently acquired letter P with the Legend of Saint Philip featured in this exhibition.
Learn more about 16th-century miniature boxwood carvings in The Boxwood Project, an online catalogue raisonné created by the Art Gallery of Ontario in cooperation with boxwood collections across the globe.
In this Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History essay, two conservators discuss the fabrication of 16th-century Netherlandish boxwood miniatures.
Rosary, 1500–1539. Netherlandish. Boxwood, L: 20 7/8 in. (52.8 cm). Musée du Louvre, Département des Objets d'art, Paris. © Musée du Louvre, Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre