Bead Spotting

It seems that I’m on the lookout for prayer beads in paintings these days. Derek at haligwoerc put this picture up this morning I noticed the beads in the right wing right away. He lists this painting as by G. David from 1505. If you click on the picture, it will enlarge in a new window.

It looks like a complete late medieval rosary with white beads (bone ?) and darker gauds (maybe amber?) with a cross. There appears to be 10 beads between the gauds if you consider the cross to be randomly placed. It is rather large in obviously placed in the painting. The woman with the beads is not only the largest figure in her panel, perhaps the largest in the painting. In fact the three patrons, the woman with beads, the man in the left wing, and the richly robed person in the left of the central panel are the largest three people in the painting, larger than Jesus and John. Interesting… the woman with beads is also the only person in the painting holding a book. This makes me wonder who this woman is. The woman behind her is wearing a crown and holding a crown.

Addendum: As I look at the paining again, the smaller woman slightly in front of the woman with the large beads also has a small rosary hanging from her belt as well. It looks like the same style although her aves are darker and the guads stand out more. Note tha the smaller women are also wearing black veils until the two most prominent women. I doubt they are nuns though because some of thier hair is showing in all of them and they appear to have more decorative cuffs on their gowns.


4 thoughts on “Bead Spotting

  1. I thought of you when I noticed the beads and wondered what you’d say about them!

    The woman with the book is the dead first wife of the guy who commissioned the painting. (That’s him on the other side.) The woman wearing the crown & holding a larger crown I believe is the BVM. The other dude on the other side standing with the chalice is St John offering a saintly counter-balance.
    One of the other women is the second wife (who also died–the painting was donated by the guy’s *third* wife…) I assume the other women are handmaids.

    I can only assume the dude in the cope is somebody’s bishop or priest relative/friend but I don’t know for sure.

  2. I was beginning to wonder if you were still out there. 🙂 I hope to start posting more again in the new year.

    Yea, I figured it was John on the left and I wondered about BVM on the right.

    If the first wife commissioned it, I take it she died before it was finished to get the second wife painted in. I guess they were handmaids — or wives in waiting. The guy in the cope must have been a relative or patron of some kind. It would be interesting it if was a son or brother. I wonder if he is the one who received it for the church.

  3. Yes indeed — once your eye is “sensitized” to beads, they start turning up everywhere! 😉

    The commentary on this painting at Web Gallery of Art says that the second wife is the woman holding two crowns in the background: that’s possible, but I think it’s more likely she is the first wife’s “name saint.” The husband (Jan) has his name-saint standing behind him (St. John the Evangelist, usually shown young and beardless, often with a cup and snake) and generally when one member of a couple has a “name saint” the other does too. I can’t put a name to the woman with two crowns offhand: it could be St. Catherine, since she has crown + book, but if so the absence of her wheel is unusual. If we knew the first wife’s name it would help — I’ll keep looking.

    None of the women are nuns (except perhaps the saint). The usual identification of kneeling young women in this position is that they are the daughters of the donor, and their black “veils” are actually hoods, a very common women’s headdress at this time. The one in front is likely the eldest daughter (since she’s the largest) and it’s common in “family portraits” like this for the eldest daughter to have beads like her mother, even if the other girls don’t.

    If there are sons of the marriage (and it looks like there’s only one) they are generally kneeling on the other side with their father.

    The man in the cope in the central panel might also be St. John the Evangelist, as he looks quite similar to the St. John in the side wing. Other than the cope, he doesn’t have any distinguishing marks, however, so I don’t think we can be sure.

  4. A slight correction to the above: the WGA says, “It was commissioned by Jan des Trompes, a leading civil servant in Bruges, who appears in the painting with his first and second wives (front and rear of the right wing).” I can see how that would lead one to think that both women are on the front of the painting, one behind the other, but…the second wife’s portrait is actually on the (literal) *back* of the panel — the reverse side (not shown above) of the wing that has her husband on the front of it. You can see her here:

    Note that she too has a “name saint,” in this case St. Mary Magdalen. (Exotically dressed and holding an alabaster jar.)

    In Google Books, I found the _Cyclopedia of painters and paintings_, by John Denison Champlin & Charles Callahan Perkins. It discusses this painting on p.281.

    Oddly, it seems to have left and right reversed in its description. The painting *is* almost certainly shown correctly above — men in family portraits are almost always on our left as we view the painting: heraldically this is the “dexter” side, the position of greater honor.

    Anyway, the Cyclopedia says:

    “In centre, Christ, in a hip cloth, standing up to his knees in Jordan; to the left, St. John [the Baptist] pouring water from the hollow of his hand upon his head; to right, an angel, in a cope of gold brocade, carrying the robe; above, God the Father in benediction. On right wing of triptych, Jean des Trompes kneels with his son Philip under the protection of St. John Evangelist; on the left, his wife, Elizabeth Van der Meersch, is attended by her four daughters and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.”

    Mysteries solved, I think. St. Elizabeth of Hungary has two crowns because she was the daughter of a king and wife of a prince. And angels in copes are actually quite common in altar paintings around this time (such as the Ghent Altarpiece*), even though the cope usually conceals the wings. We are somehow supposed to know they are angels anyway! 😉


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