Saturday, February 23, 2008


Netherlandish Painter (possibly Goswijn van der Weyden, active by 1491, died after 1538), ca. 1515–20
The Fifteen Mysteries and the Virgin of the Rosary
Oil on wood; (a) 9 7/8 x 21 in. (25.1 x 53.3 cm); (b–p) each 5 x 4 1/8 in. (12.7 x 10.5 cm)
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Depicted in this miniature altarpiece are the fifteen mysteries associated with the Virgin's life: five joyful, five sorrowful, and five glorious.

The scene at the base seems related to a legend of a miracle that saved a man from his captors: the Christ Child, held by the Virgin, unfurls a rosary of white and red roses made from blossoms that issue from the man's mouth each time he recites a Hail Mary.

The picture includes a topographical view of the park and Coudenberg Palace of the dukes of Brabant in Brussels and must have been commissioned for a member of the Habsburg court

"The Rosary beads

The traditional aid used for the recitation of the Rosary is the set of beads. At the most superficial level, the beads often become a simple counting mechanism to mark the succession of Hail Marys. Yet they can also take on a symbolism which can give added depth to contemplation.

Here the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.

As a counting mechanism, marking the progress of the prayer, the beads evoke the unending path of contemplation and of Christian perfection.

Blessed Bartolo Longo saw them also as a “chain” which links us to God. A chain, yes, but a sweet chain; for sweet indeed is the bond to God who is also our Father. A “filial” chain which puts us in tune with Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38) and, most of all, with Christ himself, who, though he was in the form of God, made himself a “servant” out of love for us (Phil 2:7).

A fine way to expand the symbolism of the beads is to let them remind us of our many relationships, of the bond of communion and fraternity which unites us all in Christ."

Pope John Paul II: Rosarium Virginis Mariae (16th October 2002)