Gothic architecture is a style that reached its height in Europe between the 12th and 16th centuries. During the High and Late Middle Ages, the Catholic Church commissioned architects to apply Gothic style in building cathedrals and churches. Characterized by tall steeples and stunning stained glass windows, Gothic churches are the epitome of this distinctive architectural style. However, spectacular cathedrals are not the only impressive product of the Gothic architecture. At the end of the Gothic period, artists from the Low Countries were producing Gothic boxwood miniatures. These small wood sculptures consist of elaborate, diminutive layers of religious reliefs.
These 16th century Gothic boxwood miniatures are made from boxwood which is a dense hardwood with fine grain. Due to these characteristics, boxwood was considered as the most suitable material for intricate micro-carving. The centuries-old Christian artworks served as tiny holy objects that can even fit in the palm of the hand. At present, there are approximately only 150 surviving Gothic boxwood miniatures in perfect condition. Among these existing antiquities, around 60 pieces were included in an art exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario on November 5, 2016.
As religious items, these Gothic boxwood miniatures took the form of altarpieces, rosaries, medallions, or prayer beads. On the outside, these wooden pieces simply appear as decorative orbs or beads. But the real wonder of the artwork resides inside the wooden piece. When opened or flipped over, it reveals amazing carvings that are rendered in virtually microscopic level. The micro-carvings usually depict significant biblical events from the Old and New Testaments. These depictions include David and Goliath, Adoration of the Magi, Jesus Entering Jerusalem, Last Judgment, and more. One piece also features a religious narrative that doesn’t exist in the Bible, which is the Coronation of the Virgin.
This piece simply looks like a wooden semi-sphere from the back side
But when flipped over, it reveals an intricate micro-carving
These Gothic boxwood miniatures usually depict two biblical stories when opened
The Art Gallery of Ontario exhibited the stunning collection in Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures exhibition until January 22, 2017. After which, the collection traveled to the Met Cloisters in New York on February 21, 2017. Later in June of the same year, the collection made its way to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum for its final stop. You can find photos of the entire collection on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s website.
Source: Art Gallery of Ontario