This section is from the book "The Arts and Crafts of Older Spain", by Leonard Williams. Also available from Amazon: Arts and Crafts of Older Spain. 3 Volumes..
The Madrid Museum contains a sixteenth-century cross of repousse iron, in the Greek form, and which is certainly of Spanish make. According to Villa-amil, it formerly had a gilded border and was painted black, which leads this writer to suppose that it was used at funerals. Iron crosses may be seen occasionally on churches and on other public buildings, and Stirling has inserted cuts of several in his Annals of the Artists of Spain. Crosses of large size were sometimes planted on the highway. Such was the elaborate but ugly iron cross, measuring three yards in height, made by Sebastian Conde in 1692 for the Plazuela de la Cerrajeria in Seville, and now preserved in her Museum.
The iron balustrade or verja of the marble tomb of Cardinal Cisneros is finely wrought in Plateresque-Renaissance, with elaborate designs of gryphons, foliage, urns, birds, masks, sheep's heads, swans, coats of arms, dolphins, and other ornament in great profusion. The craftsman was Nicolas de Vergara the elder. Lesser in size, though not less striking in its execution, is the railing, by Francisco de Villalpando, which surrounds the Altar de Prima in the choir of Toledo Cathedral.
1 Serrano Fatigati, in the Boletin de la Sociedad Espanola de Excursiones.
Ceremonial Maces And Lantern (15th Century)
"Iron pulpits," says Riano, "have been made in Spain with great success." He mentions five: two in Avila Cathedral (Plate xxii.); two at Seville; and one at the church of San Gil at Burgos. The latter is described by Street, who says: "It is of very late date, end of the fifteenth century, but I think it quite worthy of illustration. The support is of iron, resting on stone, and the staircase modern. The framework at the angles, top and bottom, is of wood, upon which the ironwork is laid. The traceries are cut out of two plates of iron, laid one over the other, and the iron-work is in part gilded, but I do not think that this is original. The canopy is of the same age and character, and the whole effect is very rich at the same time that it is very novel. I saw other pulpits, but none so old as this."
The iron pulpits of Salamanca, "covered with bas - reliefs representing the Evangelists and subjects taken from the Acts of the Apostles and the apocalypse," were made at the same time as the reja by Fray Francisco de Zalamea or Salamanca, Fray Juan, and other artists. The two at Avila are stationed one on either side of the Capilla Mayor, and are of gilded iron, hexagonal in form, and measuring about ten feet in height. Gryphons or other beasts support the pulpit on its stem or column. The body of each pulpit bears the arms of the cathedral, namely, the Agnus Dei, a lion, and a castle - the whole surmounted by a crown - and is divided lengthways by a central band into a double tier, closed by a richly decorated cornice at the upper and the lower border. Otherwise the pulpits are quite dissimilar. In one the decorative scheme is almost purely geometrical, while in the other it consists of foliage, birds and beasts, and niches containing statuettes of saints. The stair-railings are modern; but the primitive carving still adorns the end of every step.1
We do not know who was the maker of these pulpits. Some believe him to have been a certain Juan Frances, to whom our notice will again be called as figuring among the earliest masters of this eminently Spanish craft, and who, on strongish evidence, is thought to be the author of the rejas in the same cathedral which enclose the choir, and the front and sides of the Capilla Mayor. This is the only reason for supposing him to have made the pulpits also. One of these, however, is in the Flamboyant, and the other in the Renaissance style; so it may well be doubted whether both were produced by the same hand, or even at exactly the same period.1
1 For a detailed account of these pulpits see Villa-amil y Castro's article in the Museo Espanol de Antiguedades.
Iron Pulpit (Avila Cathedral)
It is, however, in the rejas that the craftsmanship of older Spain attains its loftiest pinnacle. They consist, says Banister Fletcher, of "rich and lofty grilles in hammered and chiselled iron strongly characteristic of the national art. The formality of the long and vertical bars is relieved by figures beaten in repousse, in duplicates, attached back to back, and by crestings and traceries adapted to the material, and freely employed. Few things in Spain are more original and artistic."2
1 Payments made to "Master Juan Frances" are recorded by Zarco del Valle, Documentos Ineditos para la Historia de las Bellas Aries en Espana, pp. 320, 321.
2 History of Architecture, p. 303. They possess, too, the advantage, from their ponderous solidity and fixedness, that most of them are still extant and in the best of preservation, although Napoleon's Vandals rooted up the chapel rejas of the Church of Santo Domingo at Granada, and turned them into bullets; just as their general, Sebastiani, threw down the tower of San Jeronimo to make a trumpery bridge across the trickling stream of the Genii. Scores of thousands of such crimes, not to forget the blowing up of the gate and tower of the Siete Suelos, were perpetrated by the French all over Spain; yet Washington Irving, in a strangely infelicitous passage of his Tales of the Alhambra, congratulates the invaders for their reverential treatment of the noblest monuments of Spanish art!
The reja generally was not, as many have supposed, of late invention. It existed from the earliest days of Christianity; but it was only in the Gothic and Renaissance ages that Spain converted it into a vehicle for decorative art. The growth of these ornamental rejas may be traced in cities of Old Castile, together with Seville, Salamanca, Cuenca, and Toledo. Spain, it is idle to observe, was at no moment so appreciative of her craftsmen as was Italy, so that our information as to mediaeval Spanish craftsmen and the process of their lives and labours is, upon the whole, deplorably deficient. Nevertheless, among the oldest of her artists known in Spanish as rejeros, or (a finer and more venerable term) "reja-masters" - maestros de rexas - appears Juan Frances, working in 1494 in Toledo Cathedral and, in the same capacity (for he seems to have been an armourer besides, and to have held the title of "mastermaker of iron arms in Spain")1 at Alcala de Henares, as well as, in 1505, at Osma, in whose cathedral he made the rejas of the choir and high chapel.2