stepped section and tabernacle,
silver, 2 x 2.6 m
silver, 74 x 34 cm
objects were of great importance in Colonial Latin America (16th to 18th
centuries).They include sacred vessels used in Mass or other ceremonies
such as chalices, ciboriums, monstrances, flagons or host containers,
and other objects that compose the trousseau of churches, such as candelabra,
vases, salvers, lecterns, tabernacles or frontals for the altars. Ornaments
worn by sculptures are also included, with particular emphasis on crowns.
The chalice is a cup with a tall stand and a richly engraved base used
to drink wine during Mass. The ciborium, used to hold the consecrated
host, is a big, wide glass with a cover. Both can measure between 25 and
Monstrances are safekeeping pieces that serve to hold and expose the consecrated
host (Holy Eucharist) for public veneration. They have a small circular
medallion where the Eucharist is placed, which is usually surrounded by
beams (like sunrays) and a stand with a wide base. Monstrances can measure
between 25 cm and 1 m. They are entirely or partially made of gold-plated
silver. They are decorated with images of saints, crosses, floral motifs
or vine leaves. Sometimes, they are enameled or inlaid with precious jewels
Other objects found in the trousseau of churches such as lecterns, frames,
candelabra, and vases are usually made of embossed and chiseled silver
sheets with high-relief decorations.
Frontals are elaborate silver sheets that cover the high altar. The largest
are composed of silver panels with a wooden core attached to the altar.
Frontals can measure 1 m in height and 3 m in length. Each panel measures
approximately 45 by 45 cm. Also seen are the frontal medallions that are
smaller sheets or panels, of approximately 23 by 24 cm, which adorn altars
of lateral chapels in churches. They are decorated with flowers, vegetable
motifs, birds and animals. Central panels contain images of devotion,
cherubs or lettering that abbreviates the different denominations of Christ
or the Virgin.
A few examples of decorations used for sculptures are circular halos appearing
above the heads of the saints, rays coming out of the hands of some Virgin
Mary statues and, particularly, crowns covered with pearls and jewels.
Silver objects can be partially or entirely gilded, so that they appear
to be of gold - although fine gold plating can also be worn out as a result
is part of a worshipping culture and a community, in which each member
contributed donations according to their means and tasks. The separation
from the place of origin deprives the objects of context and the communities
of a part of their history.
Due to the ornamental function of many of the pieces, religious silver
objects are very decorative and much appreciated. Aside from the value
of the silver and presence of jewels, they are also prized for their craftsmanship
and the antiquity of the pieces.
Thefts in churches are common and they frequently cause the destruction
of these art works: in the black market, frontals and other pieces are
- Esteras Martín,
Cristina. Platería hispanoamericana, siglos XVI-XIX. Badajoz.
- Gutiérrez, Ramón
(coord). Pintura, escultura y artes útiles en Iberoamérica, 1500-1825.
Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra, 1995.