IV. Guild of Silversmiths
The rectors of the Guild of Silversmiths presided the Chapter, carried out examinations, authorised shops and complied with the pious and charitable dispositions of good governance, weighed the gold carats and fixed the value of silver, established the true way and precise order in which precious metals were to be crafted, discovered any deceitful schemes related to precious metals, made sure that the masters and apprentices were honest people: old Christians, free of any impurity of blood, of proper ascendance and of that of their parents, and they awarded the best silver master disciple a prize.
It is an historical issue. As regards the definition of Jew, nowadays one can say that "it is advisable to reject any connotation of an ethnic nature. Currently, and with due respect to certain Jewish communities settled for years in specific geographical locations, it is unrealistic to offer a definition of the term; mixed marriages, the occasional integration in non-Jewish societies by means of conversion or convenience or even rape in times of persecution, do not allow an exact definition of this term. Currently, [...], Jew refers to anyone who feels Jewish and accepts and practises the word of Moses. It is a strictly cultural term" (reference). Not all authors share this view; some believe that "the rejection of an ethnicist interpretation, added to the frequent ignorance with regard to the current theoretical conceptualisations about ethnicity, continue to hinder the historical understanding of institutions such as the Inquisition, the purity of blood statutes or the peculiar model of coexistence in Mediaeval Spain (reference).
The lack of a real history of silver and gold craftsmanship in Spain has led to the disappearance of many pieces which were, undoubtedly, of great importance. Some were destroyed, stolen and sacked, and others were transformed in such a way that they bear little resemblance to the original, which would have been of interest to art historians. The national exhibition catalogues are not of great interest, since they do not offer reproductions or detailed descriptions of the objects exhibited. (reference). In the catalogues of Spanish monuments, very little or no attention is paid to this type of craftsmanship (reference). Nevertheless, there are some sets of pieces, from the 18 th century and the Andalusian Baroque period, for instance, which are worthy of admiration.
All the silver pieces were subject to metalwork norms that the artisans had to follow in order to maintain standard quality in the pieces. Otherwise, there could have been disastrous consequences for the economy. In order to safeguard the interests of individuals and institutions who acquired precious metal objects, the public powers issued precise norms.
The guilds (reference) guaranteed the professional training of their members. The guilds supervised the training and demanded that each artisan prove their artistic abilities.
The guilds provided help to widows and orphans of silversmiths. In the Middle Ages, there were frequent dispositions, royal or by the council, regarding artisan guilds. But the norms regulating the abilities of the craftsmen, the exact work corresponding to each trade, the fees and taxes, the authorisation to open shops, ..., gradually appear in each city and in each of them have their own peculiarities and characteristics which differentiate them from the others. The 16 th century norms for Malaga, for instance, make no special reference to silversmiths. There is only one specification regarding coal: "Item, that the ironsmiths who have sufficient coal, when silversmiths, other ironsmiths or locksmiths are lacking coal, give them a third of what they have, at the same price it cost them". There is a regulation of 1555 that forbids the practice of their trade to those artisans who had not paid their fee. In 1560, the city of Malaga already had a mayor of silversmiths. (reference)
1. The master silversmith
In the 15th century, silver artisans were very highly regarded among the population because silver and gold craftsmanship was considered one of the noble and high arts. In line with the fashion of the time, there was a genealogy of notable silversmiths, which had its origin in the Old Testament (reference). In 1555, Charles I granted silver and gold craftsmen and their wives the use of silk clothing, which had been forbidden to members of other trades. The monarch ordered they be called artisans and not tradesmen, given that their art was one of the "liberal arts". In 1619, Philip III renovated their right to exercise public offices, such as mayor, general procurator, official or deputy. And they were allowed to obtain nobility rank and not pay taxes for the exercise of their art. In 1636, in spite of being involved in great wars, Philip IV excluded them from the obligation to provide accommodation for soldiers and to pay, as the rest of trades were obliged to, a contribution for the troops.
Silversmiths had originally had a certain religious institution character, being taken under the wings of the Patron's chapel, which evolved, as they grew in number and time went by, towards a complex professional organisation that, however, always maintained a certain religious spirit (reference).
The master silversmith, qualified in his trade, and in possession of the corresponding examination card, was allowed to set up his own workshop, sometimes annexed to the back room of a silver craft shop. They sometimes functioned with complete and total independence. In general, each master silversmith was a specialist in a particular type of work. When a work was commissioned which required work from several specialists, the master silversmith who had received the commission was responsible for commissioning the different parts from other specialists. There was a great sense of camaraderie among them; they would sometimes lend each other materials and tools for the exercise of their art.
The trade could not be carried out in clandestinity. Citizens were not allowed to have furnaces at home. A silversmith could not use low quality silver, even if asked to do so by a private client. The master silversmith was frequently called to perform valuations of jewellery in legal disputes and inheritances. From the mid 17 th century there was the position of Master Silversmith of the Holy Church Cathedral, who was responsible for the adornment, silver-plating and polishing of the pieces belonging to the temple.
There was also the master stone smith, the specialist in carving and mounting stones, independent of the art of silver craft. The master stone smith was also the jeweller. According to Cellini, there were four types of precious stones: rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and sapphires and topaz. It wasn't until the end of the 18 th century that they re-obtained fake stones from chemical procedures. Fakes used to me made with dyes. The true experts in fakes were in Milan.
In order to have a shop, workshop or master title, it was necessary to pass an examination and to pay the rights to exercise as such. The stipend could vary according to the economic status of the aspiring candidate. The examination tribunal was constituted by the Elder Father, the silver guardian and the gold guardian. The procedure was as follows: 1) The request was read, 2) Lots were drawn to select a drawing sheet from the drawing books, 3) The candidate drew it in the presence of the tribunal, and 4) The candidate had to build the piece within the agreed period of time at the workshop of one of the guardians, 5) If the result was not satisfactory, the candidate could repeat the work, until the result was perfect according to the tribunal.
At the chapter, all complaints were heard, and the shop and workshop licences were granted, norms were established for the best way of crafting the pieces, and the taxes on sale prices and wages of the workers were established. The shops had to be centrally located. In general, each shop had its workshop. In order to obtain a shop permit, besides the examination, it was necessary to have paid the fee of the Council and the confraternity. Blacks, slaves and new Christians were not allowed to have shops. Nobody was allowed to have more than one shop. Widows of honest life could keep the shop, selling only the works of approved masters and they did not lose the right to run the shop if they remarried, provided they married a craftsman of the trade, in possession of the examination title. From 1790, widows could marry whoever they wished without losing the right to keep the shop. (reference)
Silver craft workshop furnishings were generally made up of a large bench with drawers, a small bench for delicate works, a side bench, a footstool, chairs, stools, arc, large scales for up to four pounds, small scales. The tools were a large seed-pearl cutter, a flattening frame, a device for working long and fine pieces, an octagonal anvil, set of compasses and scissors, some twenty different hammers with lathe ends to groove, hammer and flatten, with two mouths to forge; wooden and iron chisels, graters, lead moulds, forge, pumps, hundreds of crucibles, pitch bowl, sharpening stones, pumice stone, files, tweezers for forging and emptying; threaders for round or square threads, lathe with mould box, steel with iron pipes, spoon stake, large plate pin, etc.
5. Commissions / contracts
The commissioning was done by means of true contracts. The craftsman appeared before one of the scribes of the city, accompanied by a trusted person, and the commissioner appeared in his own name or in name of a civil or religious community. Unfortunately for history, no detailed description of the commissioned work was recorded, nor of the technique to employ, as with the contract, came a wax model where everything was perfectly clearly instructed. However, they did specify that the work had to be perfect and to the full satisfaction of the commissioning party. Sometimes, in important commissions, the expert services of master silversmiths were allowed.
The silversmith guilds had their time of splendour from mid 16th century to mid 17th century. They then gradually loosened their severe professional and religious norms, and it became necessary to try to recover the old spirit. On September 27, 1809, the silversmith schools were temporarily extinct, as were other brotherhoods and congregations established in the convents and their belongings. On March 31 1842, the King Regent abolished all these practices and the silver trade and industry were free.
1. The Chapters
At the chapel of the holy Patron, the silversmiths celebrated four general chapters a year. Only guild masters could attend and no arms were allowed. The masters who failed to attend were made to pay a fine. The chapters started with a mass for the Patron, presided by the Elder Father, together with two of the mayors or weighers and two official guardians, chosen from the most expert in the Art and the most zealous of the common good. These positions were elected for a year at the chapter of Saint Eloy's Day, with their mandate starting at Christmas. They had to be "wise, of good life, and god-fearing". They swore to be loyal to their posts and the brothers promised to obey them. In these chapters, the rules and the status of the guild could be modified by voting.
At the end of the 18th century the chapters had to have tools and instruments to mould, empty, cut, carve and adorn used by the guild. The guilds handed out alms to the orphans and widows of guild members and paid the burial costs of poor silversmiths. There were fines if one did not take candles to the burial and prayer sessions for the brothers.
2. Admission to the guild
The aspiring silversmith had to formally solicit admission in writing, justifying his abilities and listing his merits, which the master of the workshop where he worked had to confirm. The aspiring silversmiths could not be renegades, nor have a bad reputation or to indulge in sinful pursuits out of wedlock. He had to pay a certain amount of money towards charitable causes.
The aspiring master attended the presentation act before the Silversmith Chapter and swore before them to defend the purity of Holy Mary. Later, in his absence the Chapter voted on his admission or rejection to the guild.