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Silverwork in the 19th century

The 19 th century is marked by historical events that contributed in slowing down the devel o pment of Spanish silverwork. The war of Independence, The Seizures and other factors, resulted in the impoverishment of the Church, that had always been a good client and which caused a fall in the production of religious pieces. However, the Bourgeois orders made up for this fall in demand. There were also professional and legal reasons; on one hand, the disappearance of the School and the Congregation of Silversmiths in 1834, favo u red the free development of the art of silverwork; on the other hand however , as there was no control on training and mastery, many artisans refused to seat the aptitude examination , therefore the craft was practiced by unskilled silversmiths.

In the 19 th century, different style trends coexist. The last century Neoclassicism maintains its position during the first part of the century. The framework or structural language consolidates with its geometrical shapes and its cylindrical elements, while the figurative decoration can hardly be seen until the beginning of the reign of Elisabeth II. The last third of the century is known for its eclecticism of classical elements. At that time, the Neogothic seems to have a high demand in society.

The industrialisation process, with the new machines, made it possible to create larger amounts of objects to the detriment of the hand made objects. At the same time, there is a fall in quality and the artistic and innovative nature of the artisan is lost. Another factor that contributed to the impoverishment of the Spanish silverware was the import of secular objects due to their cheaper price, even though Spanish ones were of higher quality.

One technique that stands out is the mechanical procedure used in punching and engraving, along with cast, chiseling, turning and repousse

The chalice is the most common piece that can be found until today. At the beginning of the century, last period features still exist. It has a long conical stem and some pieces have a cylindrical ring over the knot. (print 21).

21. Chalice. San Martin, Monforte de Lemos. Lugo.

The ciboriums have the same structure and decoration as the chalices, which was also common during previous periods. A beautiful and original piece can be seen below, with intervening ribbons, leaves and angel faces. The knot is crowned by a ring. Geometrical elements are to be highlighted (print 22).

22. Cimborium. Parish Church of A Guarda. Pontevedra.

Processional crosses have different stylistic elements, the most common being the wavy and straight arms with trefoil or circular designs. At the end of the arms we can find sunbeams of different sizes. On the back of the intersection of the arms of the cross, Christ and Virgin Mary or the Saint of the parish can be found.

The base and handle of monstrels copy the models of the chalices. Clouds, angel heads and rays surround the glass case, consisting of a plain ring.

Other pieces that have structural elements from the previous century are navetas - naves- and incense holders.

Among the secular pieces, the crockery is to be higlighted. The plates are round, with a high rim and mixed lines moulding. (print 23). We can't forget the platters, soup tureens, cruets, serving spoons, open work ladles (print 24). This piece was created in 1832 and the Royal Silversmith's Factory, mark z/M is inside of the rectangle.

23. Plate. Private colection. Madrid.

24.  Serving spoon, cooking spoon. Private collection. Madrid.

Among the illumination objects we have candelabra, candlesticks with two or three branches, lamps and chandeliers with several branches. We also have toilet objects: soap dishes, mirrors, crowns; smoking objects: lighters, matches, cigarette cases, pipes; desk accessories: wax seals, scissors and pencil cases as well as the ember bowls that were used to burn incense, warm one's hands or light cigarettes. (print 25).

25. Ember bowl. Private collection. 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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