MS M.917/945, pp. 300–301

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St. Agnes

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963

MS M.917/945, pp. 300–301

An embodiment of chastity, Agnes is accompanied by a small lamb, symbol of purity and a pun on her name (agnus in Latin). The garland of flowers around her head contrasts with the luxurious necklace that forms the border. Engraved gold medallions, set with rubies and pearls, are joined by multicolored bands richly embellished with numerous pearls. The jewelry alludes to the legend in which Agnes preserved her chastity against a man who sought to tempt her with jewels; she claimed to have a fiancé (referring, of course, to Christ) who had already given her a necklace of precious stones.


Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern