Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings

Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings

Art specialists collaborate with scientists to solve the mystery behind the stunning miniature boxwood carvings via Micro-CT and X-Ray technology.

For an astonishing documentation and exhibition project called  The Boxwood Project, Art Gallery of Ontario collaborated with scientists. Scientists used computed tomography to find out the secret of every known example of boxwood carvings,

Pieces are all from leading museums and special collections for the project. Some of these objects include medallions, prayer beads, triptychs, altarpieces, monstrances and moreover.

Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings[Image Source: The Boxwood Project]

500 Years Old Tiny Monuments

According to researchers, the making of these rare objects took place in a short time frame between 1500 and 1530. They believe the pieces are either from Flanders or the Netherlands. Carvings on the items are featuring religious iconography from early 16th century.

Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings[Image Source: The Boxwood Project]

The Mystery Behind Boxwood Carvings

Researchers aimed to solve the mystery behind the every known example of these tiny monuments of art. Specialists used a variety of techniques to uncover how these marvels were crafted by hand only with basic tools. While a team of historians, art historians and scientists focused on gathering information from each item, photographers documented all art pieces by high-resolution cameras.

Pictures that you can see online let you zoom in and explore marvelous details of each boxwood through your screen.


According to historians, the boxwood carvings became popular during the rise of the new merchant social class in Europe around 15th and 16th century. The market demanded portable and high-quality religious items which included the miniature boxwood carvings. These pieces appear to be prayer beads, altarpieces, medallions, triptychs, monstrances and moreover.

Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings[Image Source: The Boxwood Project]

The Collabration of Art and Science

Boxwood carvings are complex structures. They have hidden joints held by inner layers and incorporated pins which are smaller than a grass seed. Therefore, research techniques have to involve physics, 3D imaging software, X-Ray and, micro-CT, and archaeology. According to Lisa Ellis, the conservator of sculpture and decorative arts;

"Simple X-radiography let me down; we needed a more sophisticated method to understand how these things were made. I turned to micro-CT scanning to create virtual 3D models of these works of art inside and out. Using the 3D models, I was able to take apart each object virtually so that I could see how its pieces fit together and therefore how it was made. Astonishing secrets were revealed, including in one case a hidden portrait of a king and a queen that no one had seen for over 500 years."

Researchers Use X-Ray and Micro-CT to Explore 16th Century Boxwood Carvings[Image Source: The Boxwood Project]

 Science of Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures and the research on the objects ate exhibited by the AGO with the collaboration of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

SEE ALSO: Mysterious Ancient Temples Resonate at the ‘Holy Frequency’

Written by Tamar Melike Tegün

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