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Silver Crafts - Liturgical Silver Objects


Liturgical Silver Objects

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Frontal, stepped section and tabernacle,
silver, 2 x 2.6 m
Monstrance, silver, 74 x 34 cm
  © Viceministerio de Cultura © Museo de Arte Colonial-Ministerio de Cultura


Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru.


Liturgical silver 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 50 cm.
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 and pearls.
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 of usage.


--Urgency of the Situation  

Religious silverware 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 frequently fragmented.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru

  • Esteras Martín, Cristina. Platería hispanoamericana, siglos XVI-XIX. Badajoz. 1984
  • Gutiérrez, Ramón (coord). Pintura, escultura y artes útiles en Iberoamérica, 1500-1825. Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra, 1995.


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October 2003