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Netherlandish. Adam Dirksz, late 15th, early 16th century. Prayer Bead, 1500 – 1530, boxwood with metal fittings. Overall Closed: 58.8mm × 61.1mm (5.9 × 6.1 cm). Overall Open: 56.5mm × 56.5mm × 116.3mm (5.6 × 5.6 × 11.6 cm). The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

TORONTO.- Boxwood prayer beads, rosaries and miniature altarpieces made in Northern Europe during the early 1500s demonstrate the limitless potential of human artistic practice. These tiny masterpieces, small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, depict complex scenes with elegance and precision. Without fail, they inspire viewers to ask how a person could have possibly made them, a question that can only be answered today. The Art Gallery of Ontario has joined forces with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to focus on these spectacular objects. Debuting in Toronto on Nov. 5, 2016, Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, for the first time brings together more than 60 rare boxwood carvings from institutions and private collections across Europe and North America. The exhibition offers new insight into the methods of production and cultural significance of these awe-inspiring works of art. Highlighting the cutting edge technology used by curators and conservators in their search to understand these miniature sculptures, the exhibition runs until Jan. 22, 2017.   

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Netherlandish. Queen of Sheba Visiting King Solomon; Adoration of the Magi. Prayer Bead, 1500 – 1530, boxwood with metal fittings. The Thomson Collection, AGOID.29458 . Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

Curated by Sasha Suda, the AGO’s Interim Curator of European Art & R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Print & Drawing Council; Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator, The Met Cloisters; and Frits Scholten, Senior Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, this exhibition represents the culmination of more than four years of research. Ongoing scientific investigation into these objects—led by the AGO's Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts Lisa Ellis and The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Pete Dandridge, Conservator and Administrator, Department of Objects Conservation—has been assisted by scientists at the Canadian Conservation Institute, University of Western Ontario’s Department of Sustainable Archeology, London's Museum of Natural History (UK) and NASA.  

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Netherlandish. Entry into Jerusalem (upper) with the Carrying of the Cross (lower). Prayer bead, 1515, fruitwood with metal fitting. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.29283. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016

"Micro-CT scanning has revealed previously unknown and clever strategies used by the carvers to make these amazing works of art,‖ says Ellis. Suda confirms that ―this exhibition, the first of its kind, is the culmination of a fruitful partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. We are very proud to open the exhibition at the AGO and to share the results of our years of collaborative work." 

The Thomson Collection of European Art at the AGO is home to the world’s largest collection of 16thcentury boxwood carving. The exhibition includes ten prayer beads and two miniature altarpieces from the Thomson Collection, the study of which has been ongoing. 

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South Netherlandish. F The Nine Worthies. Prayer Bead, before 1524, boxwood, ECL 21326. Musée national de la Renaissance – Château d'Écouen © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

Bringing together boxwood miniatures and related objects, the exhibition features several works which have never before been seen in North American venues. Originally owned by Henry VIII, the magnificent Chatsworth Rosary (c. 1509–1526), makes its North American debut. 

An online catalogue raisonné will provide generations of students and scholars unlimited access to these intricate and fragile works of art. Including the first ever comprehensive photographic campaign of these works of art by AGO photographers, the catalogue will launch in tandem with the exhibition allowing visitors the opportunity to view the works in unprecedented detail. Featuring a discussion of how these works of art were used, as well as technical analysis of their mechanics and design, this extensive online publication will include essays written by leading scholars, curators and conservators. 

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Netherlandish. Carrying of the Cross. Miniature altarpiece (triptych), 1500 - 1530, boxwood. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.107464. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

The wings are missing from this triyptych. 

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Netherlandish. Expulsion of the Money Changers. Prayer bead, 1520 - 1530, boxwood with metal fittings. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.29363. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

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Netherlandish. Adam Dirksz. The Adoration of the Magi. Miniature altarpiece (triptych), 1500 - 1530, boxwood. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.34208. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

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South Netherlandish. Miniature altarpiece (triptych), 1520 - 1530, boxwood; stamped leather case. Paris, Louvre Museum, Department of Decorative Arts, OA 5612. © Musée du Louvre. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

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Netherlandish. The Carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion, first quarter 16th century; 18th century silver case, boxwood with eighteenth century silver case. Private Collection, Toronto, Canada (22707). Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

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South Netherlandish. Paternoster Bead Rosary, 1509 - 1526, boxwood. Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth (EXH.111926), Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016. 

One of two intact surviving boxwood rosaries, this example belonged to Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. After making himself head of the Church of England so that he could divorce Catherine, Henry banned the use of the rosary. 

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South Netherlandish. Paternoster Bead Rosary, 1509 - 1526, boxwood. Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth (EXH.111926), Trustees of the Chatsworth SettlementReproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

Paternoster bead showing the Mass of St. Gregory above the Virgin of the Sun. 

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South Netherlandish. Paternoster Bead Rosary, 1509 - 1526, boxwood. Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth (EXH.111926), Trustees of the Chatsworth SettlementReproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

Detail showing an inset roundel carved in relief from an ave bead. The rosary contains 74 roundels: each of the ten ave beads houses five and the paternoster, a remarkable twenty four. 

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Netherlandish. The Vision of St. Hubert. Prayer bead, 1500 - 1530, boxwood. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.29359. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

Two other surviving prayer beads depicting St. Hubert. 

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Netherlandish. St. Jerome in the desert; St. Jerome blessing supplicants. Prayer Bead, 1500 - 1530, boxwood with metal fittings. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, AGOID.29360. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.

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South Netherlandish. Crucifixion. Miniature altarpiece (triptych), 1500 - 1525, boxwood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (MMA 17.190.453). © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

The two central images show key scenes in Jesus’s life: the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. 

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South Netherlandish. Nativity and Mass of St. Gregory.Miniature Altarpiece (Diptych), 1490 - 1510, boxwood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (MMA 17.190.476). © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016.

Two deeply carved planks of boxwood, joined with hinges. The two sides close like a book to protect the interior.

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North German. Joseph and Potiphar's Wife; Judgement of ParisPrayer Bead in the form of a peapod, c. 1500, boxwood0. Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, 1923.53. © Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe

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Bernardino Consorti & Ottaviano Jannella, Monumentino: Sculpture, Tools and Eyeglasses of Ottaviano Jannella; Portrait of Jannella. Collectors Cabinet, c. 1654 - 1660; engraved portrait 1819; boxwood, metal, glass, engraving on paper. The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (AGOID.29339)Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016.