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Silverwork in borbonic times

The arrival of the Borbons in Spain changed the national artistic scene. French silversmiths moved into our country and they spread new style tendencies. In the 18 th century, three styles coexisted: Barroque, Rococo and Neoclasicism, the last two maintained their presence until the next century.

During that time, new laws were circulated to every silversmith's workshop. In 1771, under the reign of Charles III, the general laws on silverwork were promulgated, which helped the creation of the local silversmith's schools or workshops. Some requirements refer to the money the artisan should have, the training years he needs, the examinations he needs to pass and the fact that his parents should be honest. They also had to be christians, able to read and write and have some knowledge of arithmetics and the christian doctrine. They should be pure of blood and not to have done any despicable job.

Another important achievement in the development of silverwork was the establishment of the Royal Silversmith Factory, run by Antonio Martinez. This silversmith was a remarkable artisan with a great knowledge of the silversmith's craft. In 1775 he travelled to Paris and London to improve his knowledge. With a royal grant, he went to Paris and when he came back to Madrid in 1776, the negotiations to open the royal factory started. In 1778 the Silversmith School was created. This workshop demonstrated to students the techniques needed to create objects of gold, silver and other metals. The school was expected to have sixteen students aged between fourteen and twenty. The learning period was 5 years but it could be reduced for students who previously had worked in a silversmith's workshop with either their parents or masters. The novelty was the inclusion of a total of six girls. The students had to pass an examination to obtain the certificate of master, by the Real Junta de Comercio y Moneda Martinez. The school apart from providing an education, it also taught how to build machines which would then develop the art of the silversmith. Remarkable silversmiths who spread the Neoclassicism in the country studied there. Religious and secular pieces were created and mechanical techniques were disseminated. Martinez died in 1798, but the school existed until 1869 [reference].

During the first years of the reign of Philip V, the Baroque models are still used but they start to evolve with time. By 1740, the shapes become undulated and pebbled beads begin to emerge as a material. During the Neoclassicism, the decoration includes friezes, schematic rib grass leaves, pearl bead rosaries and vegetal garlands. The framework consists of geometrical elements with the cylindrical being the most common.

The secular pieces suffered many variations in comparison to previous centuries. New imported French pieces appeared and became models for new trends. The Royalty, the Nobles and the Bourgeois are the main clients of the silversmiths.

Among the popular secular pieces, we can find glass cruets. The soup tureen placed at the centre of the table becomes as important as the salt cellar, the bowls for vegetables, the toilet objects, the desk accessories, the candelabra, candlesticks etc. The crockery change styles as well as the coffee, tea and chocolate sets, which are all part of the household items of middle class families. Coffee pots, kettles and chocolate vessels, are now pear shaped with a round body and a tap with perillon- pear shaped ornament.

The trays are round or oval decorated with convex opulent ornamental elements called gallones . Some other trays used as military trophies have flags and coats of arms in the front. ( print 16).

1 6. Tray. Monastery of Samos. Lugo.

Religious silverwork has a higher demand from the Church. In the first third of the century, the pieces are gradually modified until they reach the Rococo style. Chalices are the pieces that best reflect the change of century, the circular base becomes higher the stump becomes circular or with lobes and the nudo has the shape of an inverted pear. The cup is bell shaped and the subcup becomes bulbous in some cases. The peeble beads are the main ornamental elements and so are the themes related to Eucharisty and Passion. Spikes, grapes, stair, calvary, nails and column laid out in the stump, knot and sub cup (print 17). At the end of the century, the Neoclassicism is born although it won't reach its pinnacle until the next century.

17. Chalice. Monastery of St Bernand nuns, Panton. Lugo.

Cimboriums and chalices have the same structural and ornamental elements. The cups are cylindrical and finished off with a cross of bulbous arms

The processional crosses of the 18 th century show their evolution throughout the century. There are currently branches with a straight cross section and oval or circular enlargements as well as trefoil or circular completion. There are also crosses with undulated shapes with Cs and Ss, with or without enlargements or trefoil completion. The intersection of the arms of the cross is circular and has pear-shaped ornaments or rays on both ends. In decoration, the most predominant elements along the arms are peeble beads, illustrations and angel faces. The support or strut has many shapes: sinuous cross section and the architectural type. The altar has a cylindrical central part divided in four fronts separated by buttresses, vaulted niches on both sides with the apostoles, semisheric cap and thick semispheric base with handles. (print 18).

18. Processional cross. Santa Maria, Sober. Lugo.

Monstrels undergo a remarkable evolution throughout the century. Glass case with ring can be surrounded by spikes, cherubs, peeble beads, clouds or have no ornamentation at all. In some pieces, the stump and handle have the tipology of chalices; others have a polygonal base that rests on angel heads. They also have a spherical handle with an angel that holds the glass case.

The structural elements of lamps remain the same, adding bar-shaped handles. Mirrors decorate the surface and pebble beads can be found along the arms. Another illumination object is the chandelier. This was used in temples and had the shape of a crown with candles. (print 19).

19. Chandelier San Fiz, Panton. Lugo.

The structure of the incense holders remains almost the same. The smoke vent is usually circular or sinuous. The navetas keep their nave shape with profuse ornamentation. In Galicia, there is a type of nave that has a marked curved front or stern. The decorative language includes peeble beads, stiffening and cherubs.

Another religious object is the rostrillo , which is a type of flounce surrounding the face of Virgin Mary. We can find these objects in the previous century. The piece below is decorated with peeble beads, flowers and colourful stones. (print 20).

20. Rostrillo . Private colection Madrid.


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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