Adam Dircksz and his workshop County Holland,... - Lot 114 - De Baecque et Associés

Lot 114
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Adam Dircksz and his workshop County Holland,... - Lot 114 - De Baecque et Associés
Adam Dircksz and his workshop
County Holland, Northern Netherlands, c.1500 -1530
Prayer box opening on a Nativity scene
Boxwood ball composed of two finely carved and openworked hinged half-spheres opening onto a central scene assembled on a background,
Mounts in the shape of flowers in silver plated metal and chain with ring
Diameter: 3.5 cm. Open object L. 7,5 cm AL-EJ
Latin inscriptions in the inner borders:
Around the Nativity : " Et tu Bethlee(m) terra luda neq(u)a(quam) minima es i(n) principib(us) luda " : Gospel according to Matthew, 2.6 : And thou, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Thou art certainly not the least among the principal cities of Judah.
O Domine Jhesu Xriste suscipe spiritvm mevm": Act of the Apostles 7/59: O Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit.
A micro carved scene for the interior is missing

Antwerp private collection

Related literature :
Ellis, Lisa and Suda, Sasha (Eds). Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, catalogue of the exhibition held November 5, 2016 to January 22, 2017. Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2017.

Reference tool :

Prodigious! That is the first adjective that comes to mind when you hold this rare, delicately carved boxwood devotional called a "prayer nut" in the palm of your hand. Its historical name was "prayer apple" in memory of the fruit of Paradise and Christ's sacrifice to save humanity from its original disobedience.
These miniature sculptures, produced in the economically booming Northern Netherlands in the early 16th century, were admired from the outset in inverse proportion to their tiny scale.

The exteriors of the two hinged spheres have been hollowed out and perforated to present a decoration inspired by flamboyant Gothic architecture: filling motifs forming a network of speckles and rosettes with three-lobed interiors. The heads of the domes are decorated with flower-shaped frames, one of which is attached to a chain ending in a ring so that the nut can be worn suspended from the belt. When the belt was opened, two miniature scenes were originally revealed, framed by two Latin inscriptions (with abbreviations). The preserved scene shows a Nativity with six figures assembled together in a process invisible to the naked eye: the Virgin and Joseph surrounding the infant Jesus, accompanied by the donkey, the ox and an angel. It is surrounded by an inscription taken from the Gospel according to Matthew, 2.6: And thou, Bethlehem, land of Judah, art not the least among the principal cities of Judah. The missing scene was illustrated by the text from Acts 7:59: O Lord Jesus Christ, receive my spirit.

This extraordinary little object belongs to the work of a workshop that art historians have called the Adam Dircksz workshop in reference to the only signed work rediscovered. The workshop, located in the County of Holland, as evidenced by the place of origin studied by the earliest known purchasers, specialized in the production of boxwood micro-sculptures, miniature altarpieces, rosaries and - a great novelty - prayer nuts during a very short period from 1500 to 1530.

Although fairly uniform in size and shape, all the prayer nuts are original. They have unique exterior decorations, with openwork interlacing patterns inspired by Gothic architecture, the delicacy of goldsmiths' work, and biblical scenes as rich and detailed as illuminations. However, certain iconographic models and inscriptions are repeated from one work to another: our little Nativity scene can be compared to the one in the Prayer Nut in Madrid (The Thyssen-Bornemisza, inv n°K79A). The main characters, very similar to ours, are however integrated in a more elaborate scene, surrounded by the same inscription: Et tu Bethlee(m) terra luda neq(u)a(quam) minima es i(n) principib(us) luda ". It seems that this excerpt from the Gospel of St. Matthew was one of the texts commonly chosen by the workshop to accompany the Nativity scenes, as can be seen on other works.
These Latin inscriptions serve as captions to the scenes with which they interact as a memory aid, for a complete devotional experience. If text and image are associated in a codified manner, then it may be possible to identify the subject of the missing scene that was framed by the inscription from the Acts of the Apostles still visible: O Domine Jesu Christe suscipe spiritum meum.
This legend written with numerous abbreviations
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