Few images can equal the appeal of the Polly Pocket sets. Popular in the 1990s, these toys consisted of boxes of different shapes (shells, hearts, circles), small enough to be hold in the palm of a child’s hand. Once open, these boxes took the form of a tiny house, hosting a little doll, not bigger than a nail. But more than the shallow domestic world they revealed, the appeal of the Polly Pockets laid in the possibility to keep them closed (in the hand or in a pocket). 

The appeal for triptychs is just as primal. A triptych potentially contains a world, but its usual form is closed, retained. A specific sort of triptych most clearly embodied this modesty: the ‘Shrine Madonna’, or ‘Vierge ouvrante’. These statues represented the Virgin Mary, vertically bisected, inside of which were featured religious scenes. Their life-sized bodies contained miniature worlds, while the Polly Pocket sets enclosed a body in its domestic surroundings. Yet, both works presented a refined imagery of feminine enclosure. They were worlds one could look into, but this possibility seldom occurred.



The same interest for enclosure and miniatures drew my attention to a type of Medieval book, called Speculum. Named after the Latin for ‘mirror’ these works attempted to encompass encyclopedic knowledge on a given subject, and to gather it inside of a single work[1]. Like the Shrine Madonna, Specula formed condensed images of the world, were carefully crafted and could open and close. This is how I got curious about Specula about the Virgin Mary, as a textual equivalent of these statues.

As I googled ‘speculum virgin’, the first results had little to do with medieval manuscripts. Instead, I quickly encountered an advertisement to buy a speculum (as an object used to examine bodily cavities)[2]. I accepted this ambiguity, bought this tool, and started using it to shape inner worlds.



[1] Emile Mále, The Gothic Image, Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, Icon Editions, 1913 (1972), p.23 [2] In this case, ‘virgin’ refers to a size (regarding speculums, ‘virgin’ is the size below ‘small’).