Prayer Nuts
November 18, 2015 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Sixteenth century European Catholics with sufficiently heavy purses could upgrade their rosary beads with Prayer Nuts, virtuoso boxwood carvings of astonishing detail. You can get lost in these things, and probably the more so back in the day when, some believe, they were infused with scent, mixing the visual with the olfactory. They've been known to hit the market, latterly in the low six figures. posted by BWA (26 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow these are cool, thanks!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2015


Way better than Truck Nuts. Very cool!
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:10 PM on November 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


They have a fabulous collection of these in at the Art Gallery of Ontario on the first floor. I think it's a permanent exhibit and well worth seeing.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:35 PM on November 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Pardon me, brother, for the interruption."
"Not at all, brother. I was merely lost in contemplation here before the altar of our Lord."
"Indeed, that is the nature of my query! I couldn't help but notice the astonishing nature of your rosary and came to you in search of more information!"
"Ho ho, that is no trouble at all, good brother. I have impressed many a man with the size and heft of deez."
"Deez? Deez what, may I ask?"
"DEEZ PRAYER NUTS! Boom! Get thee some ointment and balm, your moniker henceforth is Brother Roasted!"
posted by Ian A.T. at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2015 [44 favorites]


Those photographs really need a coin or a marble or something set alongside the nut to give some sense of scale. Just how small are they when fully closed?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:40 PM on November 18, 2015


Oh, these are WONDERFUL! Kind of like extra-gorgeous pomanders on beauty-steroids, only used as devotional - as opposed to medicinal - preventatives.
I am so fascinated by 16th and 17th century obsessions with miniatures, small things, "nothings", motes, atoms, epigrams, tiny exteriors that contain infinite interiors...etc. etc
So neat!
posted by Dorinda at 2:49 PM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


You Need Not Be Nuts To Pray Here, But It Helps!

Seriously, though, "you can get lost" is a very apt description. What intricate beauty!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those photographs really need a coin or a marble or something set alongside the nut to give some sense of scale. Just how small are they when fully closed?

Based on the dimensions in centimeters given for the one in the second link, just a little over 2.5 inches diameter closed, which seems consistent with the ones I've seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection in New York City. They're more or less the size of a tennis ball when closed.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2015


Something about a rich man, a camel, and a needle. I dunno, old Catholic joke, I suppose.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 3:39 PM on November 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of the Chinese ivory spheres within spheres. Here's one that consists of 15 intricately carved nested spheres.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:31 PM on November 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Some at the AGO are smaller than a tennis ball. More like a golf ball or even occasionally a walnut.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:32 PM on November 18, 2015


Can you imagine the tension when it came time to carve the tiny little swords/javelins/whatevers? The sixteenth-century swearing when one broke?

This is a very cool post, thank you!
posted by HotToddy at 4:34 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those who are not Catholic, rosary beads are the M and Ms of our faith.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:05 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


HotToddy: Can you imagine the tension when it came time to carve the tiny little swords/javelins/whatevers? The sixteenth-century swearing when one broke?

I imagine it was a litany of "fuckæth!" or a simple "ye olde shitcocke!"
posted by dr_dank at 5:53 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


there's one at the Walters museum in Baltimore. They are really neat, and full of morbid little details.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:28 PM on November 18, 2015


PRAYER PIMPLES FOR HAIRY FISHNUTS
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:52 PM on November 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


How can you carve something so tiny with such detail? It's mind-boggling to think of the skill and patience this would demand.
posted by Flashman at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2015


But more seriously, wow. Those are amazing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:05 PM on November 18, 2015


Wow, how humbling. I have a hard time getting dove tails to fit tight.

Hairy Lobster: " Here's one that consists of 15 intricately carved nested spheres."

The mind just boggles.
posted by Mitheral at 7:43 PM on November 18, 2015


Reminds me of the Chinese ivory spheres within spheres. Here's one that consists of 15 intricately carved nested spheres.
Hairy Lobster

Interestingly, that article says that piece was made for the European market and that there had been a market in Europe for such spheres for centuries. I wonder if there is a relationship between these prayer nuts and those Chinese spheres.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:04 PM on November 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Chinese and Eurpoean traditions combined at the trade center and French monastary of St. Benoît. The prayer orbs from that area were known as Benoît Bals.
posted by zippy at 10:32 PM on November 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


The whole idea of prayer beads apparently came to Europe down the Silk Road from parts east. Wouldn't be surprising if Europe later borrowed ideas for decorating them.
posted by No-sword at 12:53 AM on November 19, 2015


The Chinese were always known for great craftsmanship. These are exciting to see!
posted by yueliang at 1:29 AM on November 19, 2015


You can see one at the Cloisters in NYC. I have long been amazed by it. World's best rosary bead by a long shot!
posted by mermayd at 5:15 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The ones I have seen are more walnut-sized than golfball-sized, they really are quite tiny.

I find the dichotomy between teeny-tiny images and enormous God very interesting. Is there something about the minuscule that helps one better relate to the vast?
posted by epanalepsis at 6:33 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario contains a number of these prayer beads. Curators and conservators have investigated the beads using X-rays [video], as well as microCT scans.
posted by Kabanos at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Sex, long life, and cooperative breeding   |   "Lively and engaged, voracious consumers of life." Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments