Still keeping to the sixteenth century, in other parts of Spain we find the silversmiths Baltasar Alvarez and Juan de Benavente, working at Pal-encia; Alonso de Duenas at Salamanca; and Juan de Orna at Burgos, about the same time that the foreigners Jacomi de Trezzo and Leo Leoni were engaged at the Escorial. Cuenca, too, boasted three excellent silver-workers in the family of Becerril, mentioned by Juan de Arfe in company with other craftsmen of the time of the Renaissance.1 Stirling says of Cuenca and the Becerriles: "They made for the cathedral its great custodia, which was one of the most costly and celebrated pieces of church plate in Spain. They began it in 1528, and, though ready for use in 1546, it was not finished till 1573. It was a three-storied edifice, of a florid classical design, crowned with a dome, and enriched with numberless groups and statues, and an inner shrine of jewelled gold; it contained 616 marks of silver, and cost 17,725 1/2 ducats, a sum which can barely have paid the ingenious artists for the labour of forty-five years. In the War of Independence, this splendid prize fell into the hands of the French General Caulaincourt, by whom it was forthwith turned into five-franc pieces, bearing the image and superscription of Napoleon."2
A more reliable notice says that this custodia was begun by Alonso Becerril and finished by his brother Francisco. The third member of this family of artists, Cristobal, who flourished towards the end of the sixteenth century, was Francisco's son.
1 "Con estos fue mi padre en seguimiento Joan Alvarez tambien el Salmantino, Becerril, que tambien fue deste cuento, Jan de Orna, y Juan Ruiz el Vandolino." 2 Annals of the Artists of Spain, vol. i. pp. 161, 162.
Gothic Custodia (15th Century)
Towards the close of the Gothic and during the earlier phases of the Renaissance movement in this country, enormous quantities of gold and silver began to be employed in making these custodias or monstrances of her temples; so that the fifteenth century may well be called, in Spanish craftsmanship, the "age of the custodia." A century ago the reverend Townsend, loyal to the Low Church prejudices of his day, spoke of this object with something of a sneer as "the depository of the Host, or, according to the ideas of a Catholic, the throne of the Most High, when, upon solemn festivals, He appears to command the adoration of mankind." Riano's description is more technical. "The name of custodia," he says, "is given in Spain, not only to the monstrance or ostensoir where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but also to a sort of temple or tabernacle, of large size, made also of silver, inside which is placed the monstrance, which is carried in procession on Corpus Christi day (Plate xvi.). In order to distinguish these objects one from another, the name of viril is given to the object which holds the consecrated Host; it is generally made of rock crystal, with a gold stem and mount ornamented with precious stones. The small tabernacles are generally objects of the greatest importance, both from their artistic and intrinsic value." A third description of the monstrance, written in quaint and antiquated Spanish verse by Juan de Arfe, is truthfully if not melodiously translated into English rhyme by Stirling: -
"Custodia is a temple of rich plate, Wrought for the glory of our Saviour true, Where, into wafer transubstantiate, He shows his Godhead and his Manhood too, That holiest ark of old to imitate, Fashioned by Bezaleel, the cunning Jew, Chosen of God to work His sov'ran will, And greatly gifted with celestial skill."1
Notwithstanding that the monstrance of Toledo, surmounted by a cross of solid gold, turns the scale at ten thousand nine hundred ounces, and that of Avila at one hundred and forty pounds, the weight of nearly all of these custodias is far exceeded by the value of their workmanship. The style employed in their construction is the Gothic, the Renaissance, or the two combined. Custodias of the eastern parts of Spain are more affected than the others by Italian influence, noticeable both in decorative motives which recall the Florentine, and in the use, together with the silver-work, of painting and enamels. In other parts of Spain the dominating influence is the later Gothic. Among the former or Levantine class of monstrances, the most important are those of Barcelona, Vich, Gerona, and Palma de Mal-lorca; and of the others, those of Cordova, Cadiz, Sahagun, Zamora, Salamanca, and Toledo - this last, according to Bertaut de Rouen, "a la maniere d'un clocher perce a jour, d'ouvrage de filigrane, et plein de figures." Ciistodias in the purest classic or Renaissance style are those of Seville, Valladolid, Palencia, Avila, Jaen, Madrid, Segovia, Zaragoza, Santiago, and Orense.
1 Op. cit., p. 159, note.
Juan de Arfe y Villafane, who may be called the Cellini of Spain's custodia - makers, was born at Leon in 1535. He was the son of Antonio de Arfe, and grandson of Enrique de Arfe, a German who had married a Spanish wife and made his home in Spain. The family of Juan, including his brother Antonio, were all distinguished crafts-men, and he himself informs us that his '-rand-father excelled in Gothic plateria, as may be judged from the custodias, by Enrique's hand, of Cordova, Leon, Toledo, and Sahagun, and many-smaller objects, such as incensories, crosiers, and paxes.
The father of Juan, Antonio de Arfe, worked in silver in the Renaissance or Plateresque styles, and executed in the florid manner the custodias of Santiago de Galicia and Medina de Rioseco; but the training and tastes of Juan himself were sternly classical. His work in consequence has a certain coldness, largely atoned for by its exquisite correctness of design and unimpeachable proportions. Arfe's ideal in these matters may readily be judged of from his written verdict on the Greco-Roman architecture. "The Escorial," he says, in the preface to his description of the custodia of Seville cathedral, "because it follows the rules of ancient art, competes in general perfection, size, or splendour with the most distinguished buildings of the Asiatics, Greeks, and Romans, and displays magnificence and truth in all its detail."