Our Lady of the Rosary in Biot, France 15th Century
Our Lady of the Rosary in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Biot, France. The work is attributed to Louis Brea (1474-1523). The exquisite Blessed Mother and the Holy Infant Jesus are each holding a string of Paternoster beads. The red indicates coral because that was a favored and aristocratic material to make beads from during that era. However, it could just be the artists color aesthetics.
Many paternoster beads would have 10 or 20 beads - sometimes configured as 10 beads - a larger bead - then 10 more beads. Often with a wooden ring or a tassel on one end. The very devout would also often have a small carved skull bead included in their paternoster beads.
If you look closely, you will also see paternoster beads being held by the Catholic priests, nuns, bishops, and pope who sit beneath her enveloping cloak. These are depictions of very early rosaries, which did not include a crucifix. Often they were often used for praying the Psalms and other prayers during this century.
This beautiful art was commissioned before the Protestant Reformation period that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and papal authority. In this work, the figure of the Virgin Mary is unnaturally tall with very long lower half of the body emphasizing her stature and importance as a holy figure. She is lovely! More importance is put on the holy figure of Mary by painting all the other figures under her cloak as unusually small.
After the reformation in the 1500s, a style of “reform of painting,” as it was called, was launched by two brothers and a cousin in Bologna: Annibale, Agostino, and Lodovico Carracci. They established an academy that emphasized drawing from life and looked to inspiration from Titian and other Renaissance masters, restoring the naturalism and classical balance of the early 16th century. In fact, Agostino created an engraving in 1582 that also depicted the Blessed Virgin Mary with her protective and enveloping cloak during this era.
As you can see in comparison, the figures are more lifelike and proportionally correct than in the earlier work.