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A wedding gift fit for a king

November 14th, 2016

One of the many highlights of the AGO’s newest exhibition, Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures  is the magnificent Chatsworth Rosary (c.1509–1526). Originally owned by King Henry VIII (yes, the one with many wives) the rosary has never before travelled to North America. Henry’s initials, as well those of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, are carved on either side of the large bead’s hinge. We think that the bead was given to the couple as a wedding gift in 1509, before Henry banned rosary use in England in 1534 – one of many anti-Catholic changes instituted as part of the Reformation.


South Netherlandish Rosary, 1509 – 1526 boxwood Overall (length, diameter): 472mm × 57mm (47.2 × 5.7 cm) Overall (diameter of ave bead): 38mm (3.8 cm) Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. Photo: Craig Boyko/Ian Lefebvre © Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016

Research using CT scanning led to a major find: the discovery of a portrait of Henry and Catherine, carved inside the large bead at the end of the rosary. It is invisible to the naked eye.


Decade Rosary (detail, CT scan), 1509-1526. overall ( length, diameter): 472 x 57 mm. Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees. EXH. 111926 © 2016 Art Gallery of Ontario

So how did the rosary end up in Toronto? It is thought that Catherine, a devout Catholic to the end, kept it following the divorce in 1526. In 1624 it appeared in the private collection of a Parisian priest, and surfaced again hundreds of years later when the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire bought it for their collection at Chatsworth House in England.

Come see the rosary and other boxwood carvings for yourself!  Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures  is included in the price of admission. Learn more about the secrets of Boxwood miniatures by visiting the Boxwood Project online.


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