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Gothic Silverwork

Given that very few silverwork objects exist from the Romanesque period - except from a few crosses, chalices and a few reliquaries, we will start the analysis of the evolution of style with the Gothic era. During this period, silverwork was nearly exclusively religious, us u ally created in the monasteries and destined to make up for the demand that existed for cult objects. Gradually, art became independent from convents and at the end of the 17th century, the Church lost its monopoly . P rofessional artists opened workshops in the cities and their number of clients increased . Their clientele consisted of both the Royalty and the Nobles, who could afford valuable objects although not the ecclesiastic.

In the second half of the 13 th century and at the beginning of the 14 th century, Romanesque style pieces were still made and t he development of the Gothic silverwork was lagging behind in relation to the evolution of architecture. When a new artistic style is born the previous one doesn't immediately disappear, it gradually moves forward, at the beginning coexisting with the other , sometimes taking years before it becomes dominant .

Gothic silversmiths were inspired by the architecture of the time, its shapes could be seen in decoration and structural elements and their creations resembled to cathedral buildings. There are many sculptures around that are independent from the whole work itself. The vegetal naturalistic ornamentation is frequent and is known for its geometric strokes. Decoration had two contradictory features or characteristics. On the one hand we could identify a lack of light and shade contrast and on the other a strong colouration, with the use of blue, green, violet and amber translucid enamels.

The pieces of art created by silversmiths were of magnificent beauty. Some examples were processional crosses, and monstrances, along with chalices, incense holders, navetas -rooms with inverted nave shapes and reliquaries. Furthermore, there were crosses of straight arms with medallions and fleur de lys designs.

1. Processional cross . Santa Maria, Monforte de Lemos. Lugo.

There is a charcateristic type of crosses known as cruz de gajos , with cylindrical arms, widely spread in Castilla, Leon, Cantabria, Alava and la Rioja. They looked like they were made from the branches of a tree with bevelled sprouts. The ir use was often limited to funerals. (print 2).

2. Processional cross . San Fiz, Panton. Lugo.

The portable monstrances are monumental. In this period, German artists moved to Spain and created important pieces of art, good examples being the objects carved by Enrique de Arfe. In monstrances, clumps and knots, crosses and chalices are usually made from masonry. (print 3).

3. Chalice clump Cathedral of Lugo.

The base of most monstrances, reliquaries and chalices is star shaped. These objects have hexagon shaped handles, architectonic knot, semioval cup, bellshaped, plain or decorated on their base. (print 4).

4.  Chalice base. Cathedral of Lugo

Another remarkable piece was the pax plaque, which resembled to a small altarpiece. The plaques were handed to the faithful, who could kiss the image. There was one for men and one for women. The image you can see consists of a basement over which the Pieta rests, holding Christ in her arms under a baldaquin. The altarpiece is flanked by buttresses. On the back there is a handle it order to be held. This picture is a very characteristic example of this time. (print 5).

5. Pax plaque. Catedral of Orense.

During this period cast, chiselled, fretted and engraved silver technique was used to create these pieces.


Hall, J., Diccionario de temas y simbolos artisticos , Madrid, 1987, pags. 96-102.

Saez Gonzalez, M., La plateria en Terra de Lemos , Lugo, 2003, pag. 23.

Cruz Valdovinos, J. M., Ciclo de Conferencias: El Madrid de Carlos III , "La Real Escuela de Plateria de don Antonio Martinez, Madrid, 1988.

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