In point of versatility Juan de Arfe was a kind of Spanish Leonardo. His book, De Varia Con - mensuracion, etc., published in 1585, is divided into four parts, and deals, the first part with the practice of geometry, the second with human anatomy, the third with animals, and the fourth with architecture and silver-work for use in churches.
This book is prefaced by the portrait of the author, given above. It shows us - what he really was -a quiet, cultured, gentle - hearted man Indeed, while Arfe was studying anatomy at Salamanca, it gave him pain to lacerate the bodies even of the dead. "I was witness," he records, "to the flaying of several pauper men and women whom the law had executed; but these experiments, besides being horrible and cruel, I saw to be of little service to my studies in anatomy."
Arfe's workmanship of the custodia of Avila cathedral, which he began in 1564 and terminated in 1571, won for him an early and extended fame. He also made the custodia of Burgos (brutally-melted during the Spanish War of Independence), and those of Valladolid (finished in 1590), Lugo, Osma, and the Hermandad del Santisimo at Madrid. The custodia of Palencia is also thought by some to be his handiwork.
But Arfe's crowning labour was the Greco-Roman custodia of Seville cathedral (Plate xvii.). The chapter of this temple selected his design in 1580, and nominated the licentiate Pacheco to assist him with the statuettes. Pacheco also carried out his portion of the task with skill and judgment. A rare pamphlet, written by Arfe and published at Seville in 1587, gives a minute description of the whole custodia. In Appendix C, I render this description into English, together with a similarly detailed notice of the custodia (1513 a.d.) of Cordova. This last, which we have seen to be the work of Juan de Arfe's grandfather, Enrique, is not to be surpassed for fairy grace and lightness, seeming, in the eloquent metaphor of a modern writer, "to have been conceived in a dream, and executed with the breath."
Custodia Of Seville Cathedral. (By Juan de Arfe. Late 16th Century)
Spain in the seventeenth century had reached the lowest depth of her decadence and impoverishment; and yet we find that century an age - to quote a Spanish term - of "gallantries and pearls," in which a craze for reckless luxury continued to prevail in every quarter. Narratives innumerable inform us of the life and doings of that prodigal court and prodigal aristocracy; their ruinous and incessant festivals; the fortunes that were thrown away on furniture, and jewels, and costume. True, we are told by Bertaut de Rouen that, except upon their numerous holidays, the costume of the Spanish men was plain enough. This author, who calls them otherwise "debauched and ignorant," says that their clothes were all of "mechante frise," and adds that they continually took snuff," dont ils ont toujours les narines pleines, ce qui fait qu'ils n'ont que des mouchoirs de laine, de toile grise, et peinte comme de la toile de la Chine." The same traveller, attending an ordinary reception in the royal palace at Madrid, was unable to distinguish the nobles from the lower orders, except that, by the privilege peculiar to this country, the former kept their hats on in the presence of the sovereign. Even of Philip himself he says:" Le Royd'Espagne estoit debout avec un habit fort simple et fort ressemblant a tous ses portraits"; alluding, probably, to those of Philip the Fourth by Velazquez, in which the monarch wears a plain cloth doublet.
But when the Spaniard dressed himself for any scene of gala show, his spendthrift inclinations swelled into a positive disease. The women, too, squandered enormous sums on finery. The Marchioness of Liche, said to have been the loveliest Espanola of that day, is spoken of by Bertaut as wearing "un corps de brocard d'argent avec de grandes basques a leur mode, la jupe d'une autre etoffe avec grand nombre de pier - reries, et cela luy feioit fort bien." An anonymous manuscript of the period, published by Gayangos in the Revista de Espana for 1884, describes the fiestas celebrated at Valladolid in 1605, in honour of the English ambassador and his retinue. In this relation the Duke of Lerma is quoted as possessing a yearly income of three hundred thousand cruzados, besides "as much again in jewellery and furniture, and gold and silver services." At the state banquets which were given at that wasteful court, even the pies and tarts were washed with gold or silver; and at a single feast the dishes of various kinds of fare amounted to two thousand and two hundred. At the banquet given by the Duke of Lerma, three special sideboards were constructed to sustain the weight of four hundred pieces of silver, "all of them of delicate design and exquisitely wrought of silver, gold, and enamel, together with innumerable objects of glass and crystal of capricious form, with handles, lids, and feet of finest gold."
The whole of Spain's nobility was congregated at these festivals, "richly attired with quantities of pearls and oriental gems," while everybody, young and old alike, wore "diamond buttons and brooches on cloaks and doublets," feather plumes with costly medals, gold chains with emeralds, and other ornaments. The ladies of the aristocracy were also "clothed in costliest style, as well as loaded with diamonds and pearls and hair-ornaments of pearls and gold, such as the women of Castile lay by for these solemnities."
The Spanish churches, too, continued to be veritable storehouses of treasure. The manuscript published by Gayangos says that in 1605 the church of La Merced at Valladolid had its altars "covered with beautiful gold and silver vessels, of which there are a great many in the whole of Castilla la Vieja, and particularly here at Valladolid." Bertaut de Rouen's notice of the shrine of Montserrat in Cataluna has been inserted previously. In 1775 Swinburne wrote of the same temple: - "In the sacristy and passages leading to it are presses and cupboards full of relics and ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones; they pointed out to us, as the most remarkable, two crowns for the Virgin and her Son, of inestimable value, some large diamond rings, an excellent cameo of Medusa's head, the Roman emperors in alabaster, the sword of Saint Ignatius, and the chest that contains the ashes of a famous brother, John Guarin, of whom they relate the same story as that given in the Spectator of a Turkish santon and the Sultan's daughter.... Immense is the quantity of votive offerings to this miraculous statue; and as nothing can be rejected or otherwise disposed of, the shelves are crowded with the most whimsical ex votos, viz., silver legs, fingers, breasts, earrings, watches, two - wheeled chaises, boats, carts, and such-like trumpery."