AGO, in partnership with the Met and Rijksmuseum, delves into the mysteries of making extraordinary miniature works of art from the early 1500s

Groundbreaking exhibition examines rare works of art and discovers how they were made

TORONTO – Boxwood prayer beads, rosaries and miniature altarpieces made in Northern Europe during the early 1500s demonstrate the limitless potential of human artistic practice. These tiny masterpieces, small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, depict complex scenes with elegance and precision. Without fail, they inspire viewers to ask how a person could have possibly made them, a question that can only be answered today. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has joined forces with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to focus on these spectacular objects. Debuting in Toronto on Nov. 5, 2016Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, for the first time brings together more than 60 rare boxwood carvings from institutions and private collections across Europe and North America. The exhibition offers new insight into the methods of production and cultural significance of these awe-inspiring works of art. Highlighting the cutting edge technology used by curators and conservators in their search to understand these miniature sculptures, the exhibition runs until Jan. 22, 2017.

Curated by Sasha Suda, the AGO’s Interim Curator of European Art & R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Print & Drawing Council; Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator, The Met Cloisters; and Frits Scholten, Senior Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, this exhibition represents the culmination of more than four years of research. Ongoing scientific investigation into these objects—led by the AGO's Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts Lisa Ellis and The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Pete Dandridge, Conservator and Administrator, Department of Objects Conservation—has been assisted by scientists at the Canadian Conservation Institute, University of Western Ontario’s Department of Sustainable Archeology, London's Museum of Natural History (UK) and NASA.

“Micro-CT scanning has revealed previously unknown and clever strategies used by the carvers to make these amazing works of art,” says Ellis. Suda confirms that “this exhibition, the first of its kind, is the culmination of a fruitful partnership with The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. We are very proud to open the exhibition at the AGO and share the results of our years of collaborative work.”

The Thomson Collection of European Art at the AGO is home to the world’s largest collection of 16th-century boxwood carving. The exhibition includes ten prayer beads and two miniature altarpieces from the Thomson Collection, the study of which has been ongoing.

Featuring both boxwood miniatures and related objects, several works in the exhibition have never before been seen in North American venues. Originally owned by Henry VIII, the magnificent Chatsworth Rosary (c. 1509–1526), makes its North American debut.

An online catalogue raisonné will provide generations of students and scholars unlimited access to these intricate and fragile works of art.  Including the first ever comprehensive photographic campaign of these works of art by AGO photographers, the catalogue will launch in tandem with the exhibition allowing visitors the opportunity to view the works in unprecedented detail. Featuring a discussion of how these works of art were used, as well as technical analysis of their mechanics and design, this extensive online publication will include essays written by leading scholars, curators and conservators.

A generously illustrated 80-page book accompanies the exhibition. Featuring high-resolution digital photographs, X-rays and micro-CT scans, Gothic Boxwood Miniatures: A Beginner’s Guide is co-authored by Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator, The Met Cloisters, Pete Dandridge, Objects Conservator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lisa Ellis, Conservator, Sculpture and Decorative Arts, AGO, and Sasha Suda, Curator Curator & R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Print and Drawing Council, AGO. The guide will be available for sale in shopAGO for $19.95 in November, 2016.

An extensive scholarly publication edited by Frits Scholten, with contributions by Barbara Drake Boehm, Pete Dandridge, Lisa Ellis, Reindert Falkenburg, Ingmar Reesing, Frits Scholten, and Sasha Suda will be published by the Rijksmuseum.

To celebrate the launch of Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, the AGO welcomes international scholars for a one-day research symposium on Oct. 30, 2016. The symposium will feature the conservators, curators, and various scientists and technical researchers who helped to identify the methods of manufacturing these wonderful works of art. More details will be available on in the weeks to come.

Following its debut at the AGO, the exhibition will travel to New York to appear at the The Met Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Feb. 21, 2017, before travelling to the Rijksmuseum on June 15, 2017.

Both The Met Cloisters and the AGO will present The Boston Camerata’s early music program, Treasures of Devotion: Spiritual Songs in Northern Europe 1500–1540. Conceived by the Camerata’s artistic director and vocalist Anne Azéma as a musical mirror to the exhibition, the performance will present works from the early Renaissance, reflecting the spirituality of homes, family circles, and small chapels in an age of intense religious renewal. The Camerata will perform at the AGO on Jan. 14, 2017. More details will be released at over the coming months.

Admission to Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures is free for AGO members and for children five and under. AGO members have access to an exclusive preview before the exhibition opens to the public. More information on the benefits of AGO membership can be found at

The AGO acknowledges the generous support of American Express, Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program.

With a collection of more than 90,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Ontario is among the most distinguished art museums in North America. From the vast body of Group of Seven and signature Canadian works to the African art gallery, from the cutting-edge contemporary art to Peter Paul Rubens’s masterpiece The Massacre of The Innocents, the AGO offers an incredible art experience with each visit. In 2002, Ken Thomson’s generous gift of 2,000 remarkable works of Canadian and European art inspired Transformation AGO, an innovative architectural expansion by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry that in 2008 resulted in one of the most critically acclaimed architectural achievements in North America. Highlights include Galleria Italia, a gleaming showcase of wood and glass running the length of an entire city block, and the often-photographed spiral staircase, beckoning visitors to explore. The AGO has an active membership program offering great value, and the AGO’s Weston Family Learning Centre offers engaging art and creative programs for children, families, youth and adults. Visit to learn more.

Mar. 12 – May 29, 2016: Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s-1980s

July 1 – Sept. 11, 2016: The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris

Oct. 22, 2016 – Jan. 29, 2017:  Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more

April 22 – July 30, 2017Georgia O’Keeffe

The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.


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Andrea-Jo Wilson; Senior News Officer 
416-979-6660, ext. 403, [email protected]

Caitlin Coull; Manager, Communications
416-979-6660, ext. 364, [email protected]

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