Andean Baroque masterpiece

On 13 December 2019, by Claire Papon

Precious contents deserve a sumptuous setting...This casket once belonging to the collection of an old European royal family reflects the Spanish Baroque in both its decoration and technique.

Spain or Hispanic colonies (Peru?), ca. 1630-1640, casket with convex lid, wooden core covered with repoussé silver leaf on partly gilded gesso, embellished with mythological scenes, interior with geometric marquetry decoration, rim lined in silver with lozenge decoration, polished iron strap hinges, 27.3 x 33.7 x 24.5 cm.
Estimate: €80,000/100,000

The method consisted of working a thin sheet of silver in relief applied to a layer of gesso, a mixture of plaster and hide glue, which reproduced the subject to be illustrated. The only silverwork objects using this technique came from Spain or the South American colonies. The Hispanic Society of America in New York has a tabernacle similar to this casket, dating from the late 16th or early 17th century, with detailed Renaissance scenes in reserves around an Adoration of the Shepherds. Both pieces evoke altar fronts, reliquaries and caskets where the somewhat naive decoration and sometimes jumbled compositions suggest provincial work from a later period than items made in the Iberian Peninsula. For instance, the Adoration of the Shepherds is based on a bronze plaque of 1561 by the Parma silversmith and medallion-maker Gian Federigo Bonzagni (1508–after 1586), confirming a long interval between the date of the inspirational source and the object's execution. An altar front in a church in Cuzco, Peru, has a decoration rather like the one here in terms of exuberance, though it dates from around 1680. We know that Andean silversmiths (Spanish, mixed-race or Indian) produced a wealth of pieces decorated with silver leaf designed as Catholic liturgical objects. But though this casket has a similar technique and workmanship, the theme itself echoes the way mythology was depicted during the Italian Renaissance, and even by Flemish engravers such as Frans Floris or Cornelis Bos. So Diana and Ceres surrounded by children and musicians, Venus and an old man warming himself by a cauldron, Apollo and Athena accompanied by the nine muses, Galatea triumphant and Paris delivering his judgement could well have crossed the Atlantic in a Spanish silversmith's luggage to serve as a model for a casket commissioned by a dignitary of the Viceroyalty of Peru...

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