These 16th Century Boxwood Carvings Are So Tiny Researchers Needed Xray To Reveal Their Secrets

Miniature boxwood carvings have fascinated viewers since the early 1500s. These religious relics were only produced between 1500 and 1530 in Flanders or the Netherlands, and then they suddenly disappeared. Their intricate representations of heaven, hell, and life on Earth are so miniature, that they can’t be properly assessed by the human eye. Who and how managed to make them 500 years ago?

“They’re objects that defy modern comprehension,” says Alexandra Suda, a curator of European art at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto, Canada. “As small as they are, they represent the limitless potential for human creativity in a way that is universal.” Recently, researchers teamed up to analyze the carvings to reveal their secrets.

The secrets of these 500-year-old miniature boxwood carvings have been intriguing art lovers for many centuries

Their intricate representations of heaven, hell and life on Earth are so miniature, that they can’t be properly assessed by the human eye

Recently, researchers teamed up to to analyze the mysterious carvings

Using micro CT scanning and Advanced 3D Analysis Software, researchers unveiled the way the miniatures were produced

It turns out that each miniature consists of multiple parts that were carved individually

These parts were then reassembled in such a seamless way, that the joints could only be detected by a microscope or an X-ray

It was believed that the miniatures were made between four and six different workshops in Flanders between 1500 and 1530 and religious people used to carry them around wherever they went

However, the new findings suggest that all of these miniatures were made by a single master craftsman

“That was the thing that really hit us over the head like a frying pan: This is the product of one guy’s vision, who was extraordinarily gifted,” says Suda

Of course, he must have had a few apprentices and assistants, but “when he died, this practice ceased to exist”

“I rarely use the term genius, but I would say that this person if not a genius, is certainly an exception to the norm”

“The thing that really connected with me was that whoever this artist was was certainly inviting their original viewer to consider the possibility of it all, and he was quite successful because we’re still thinking about that today”