Striking objects of ecclesiastical orfebreria were produced in Spain throughout the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries. Among the finest are the triptych-reliquary of Seville cathedral known as the Alfonsine Tables; the retablo and baldaquino of the cathedral of Gerona; the silver throne, preserved in Barcelona cathedral, of Don Martin of Aragon; and the guion, at Toledo, of Cardinal Mendoza.
Triptych-reliquaries, which had gradually expanded from the diptych form - three leaves or panels thus replacing two, - were generally used in Spain from the eleventh century, and varied in dimensions from a few inches in height and width to several yards. We find them in the Gothic, Mudejar,1 Romanic, or Renaissance styles - wrought either in a single style of these, or in effective combination of some two or more. The Academy of History at Madrid possesses a richly ornamented Mudejar triptych (Plate ix.) proceeding from the Monasterio de Piedra. It is inferior,
1 The Mudejares were the Mussulmans who submitted, in the conquered cities, to the Spanish-Christian rule. The word Mudejar is of modern growth, nor can its derivation be resolved with certainty. From the thirteenth century onwards, and formed by the fusion of the Christian and the Saracenic elements, we find Mudejar influence copiously distributed through every phase of Spanish life and art, and even literature.
Mudejar Triptych (Interior of one leaf of the door. 14th Century. Royal Academy of History, Madrid) notwithstanding, to the Tablas Alfonsinas,1 "a specimen of Spanish silversmiths' work which illustrates the transition to the new style, and the progress in the design of the figures owing to the Italian Renaissance."2 In or about the year 1274, this splendid piece of sacred furniture was made by order of the learned king, to hold the relics of certain saints and of the Virgin Mary. The maker is thought by Amador to have been one "Master George," a craftsman held in high esteem by the father of Alfonso and the conqueror of Seville, Ferdinand the Third. Romanic influence is abundant in this triptych, showing that, although exposed to constant changes from abroad, the Spanish mediaeval crafts adhered upon the whole with singular tenacity to primitive tradition.
The triptych is of larch, or some such undecay-ing wood, and measures, when the leaves are opened wide, forty inches over its entire breadth, by twenty-two in height. Linen is stretched upon the wood, and over that the silver-gilt repousse plates which form the principal adornment of the reliquary. "The outside is decorated with twelve medallions containing the arms of Castile and Aragon, and forty-eight others in which are repeated alternately the subjects of the Adoration of the Magi and the Annunciation of the Virgin, also in repousse. In the centres are eagles, allusive, it is possible, to Don Alfonso's claim to be crowned Emperor.... The ornamentation which surrounds the panels belongs to the sixteenth century" (Riano). The arms here spoken of contain the crowned lion and the castle of three towers; and the interesting fact is pointed out by Amador that the diminutive doors and windows of these castles show a strongly pointed Gothic arch. The sixteenth-century bordering to the panels is in the manner known as Plateresque.1 The clasps are also Plateresque, and prove,
1 Amador prefers to call these Tables "the triptych of the learned king," in order to distinguish them by this explicit title from the Astronomical Tables prepared by order of the same monarch.
2 Riano, Spanish Arts, p. 16.
1 So named because the silversmiths (plateros) of this country used it in their monstrances (custodias) and in many other objects or utensils of religious worship. The most refined and erudite of Spanish silver-workers, Juan de Arfe, thus referred to it in rhyme: -
"Usaron desta obra los plateros Guardando sus preceptos con zelo; Pusieronle en los puntos postrimeros De perfeccion mi abuelo."
The "Tablas Alfonsinas" (View of Interior; 13th Century. Seville Cathedral) together with the border, that the triptych was restored about this time.
Inside (Plate x.), it consists of fifteen compartments, "full of minute ornamentation, among which are set a large number of capsules covered with rock crystal containing relics, each one with an inscription of enamelled gold, cloisonne. Several good cameos with sacred subjects appear near the edge of the side leaves" (Riano). These cameos, handsomely engraved with figures of the Virgin and other subjects of religious character, are fairly well preserved; but the designs upon enamel are almost obliterated. Eight precious stones, set in as rude a style as those upon the ancient crowns and crosses of the Visigoths, have also fallen out, or been removed, from the interior.
The retablo of Gerona cathedral and its baldachin date from the fourteenth century. "The Retablo is of wood entirely covered with silver plates, and divided vertically into three series of niches and canopies; each division has a subject, and a good deal of enamelling is introduced in various parts of the canopies and grounds of the panels. Each panel has a cinq-foiled arch with a crocketed gablet and pinnacles on either side. The straight line of the top is broken by three niches, which rise in the centre and at either end. In the centre is the Blessed Virgin with our Lord; on the right, San Narciso; and on the left, St Filia. The three tiers of subjects contain figures of saints, subjects from the life of the Blessed Virgin, and subjects from the life of our Lord."1