Toward the end of the Middle Ages, artists and architects commissioned by the Catholic Church continued to work in the Gothic style. Today, this iconic movement is predominantly praised for the towering spires and sky-high stained glass windows of its gorgeous cathedrals. However, not all Gothic masterpieces were larger-than-life; some, like this captivating collection of 16th century Gothic boxwood miniatures, can even fit in the palm of your hand!
Believed to have been expertly handcrafted between 1500 and 1530 in either the Netherlands or Flanders, each peculiar piece was astonishingly carved from a single piece of boxwood, a particularly lustrous lumber. The tiny pieces of art double as holy objects, ranging from prayer beads and rosaries to medallions and altarpieces. Externally, they may appear simply as solid wooden orbs and decorative figures, but they actually open or flip over to reveal awe-inspiring, intricate religious reliefs.
Well-known iconography depicted by the miniatures spans the the Old Testament (such as David and Goliath and the Last Judgment); the New Testament (including Jesus entering Jerusalem and the Adoration of the Magi); and even stories that exist outside of the Bible (like the Coronation of the Virgin, a narrative that emerged only in the Middle Ages). Featuring an exquisite amount of detail, each object is as beautifully crafted as it is religiously significant.
The stunning series of wooden works is being showcased in Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, an exciting exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Organized in collaboration with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Amsterdam’s recently renovated Rijksmuseum, the show features over 60 boxwood miniatures. Though Small Wonders will only be on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario through January 22, it will travel to the Met Cloisters on February 21 followed by a final stop at the Rijksmuseum in June. In the meantime, you can explore the comprehensive collection of miniatures on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s website.