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Monstrance

  • Place of origin:

    Mexico (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1690-1710 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver-gilt, crystal

  • Credit Line:

    Dr W.L. Hildburgh Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.252-1956

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries, case 8

This object would have been used in a Catholic church. The function of a monstrance is to display the Sacred Host, bread which is miraculously transformed into the body of Christ during the service of Mass. The Host would have been placed inside the window in the crescent-shaped holder called a 'lunula'. This example may have been placed on the altar as a focus for worship during the service of Benediction, or held up during church processions for all the congregation to see.

The sun is often used as a symbol of Christ's regeneration and radiance. Monstrances made in the shape of the sun were very popular after the Counter Reformation, an intense period of reform within the Roman Catholic Church from the 1540s. Such monstrances featured during the annual feast of Corpus Christi (meaning 'body of Christ'). This major festival was instituted in the 14th century to celebrate the Eucharist, the mystical moment of transformation.

Physical description

Monstrance, silver-gilt, consisting of a frame of sun rays set with rock crystals encircling a round glass window, surmounted by a cross. The round base and tall stem, formed from urn-shaped sections, are decorated with applied cherub heads and pounced (pricked) scrollwork.

Place of Origin

Mexico (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1690-1710 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silver-gilt, crystal

Dimensions

Height: 64 cm, Width: 24.6 cm, Diameter: 23.3 cm of foot

Object history note

Historical significance: The cast and applied winged cherubs' heads, modelled with a degree of realism, are an important element in the attribution of the piece to Latin America (Esteras Martín: 2006, p. 193).

Historical context note

The Counter Reformation
The 16th century was a period of intense self examination for the Roman Catholic church. Internal dissent was undermining its authority and whole nations were going over to the new Protestant faiths. To clarify its role, the church held the Council of Trent from 1545 to 1563. It addressed concerns about religious education, abuses of wealth and the relief of the poor. The Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) became the champion of the reformed Catholic church and promoted the faith worldwide. At the heart of this Counter Reformation was the need to restore the Eucharist to the centre of worship. In Catholic belief, the Eucharist enshrines the moment when bread and wine, consecrated at the altar, are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. A priest holding up a monstrance Detail from The Adoration of the Holy Eucharist, by Claudio Coello, 1685-90 Monasterio del Escorial, Madrid.

Art and Faith
The image and message of the reinvigorated Roman Catholic church were actively promoted through dramatic architecture and furnishings. Throughout the 17th century new churches were built in the grand Baroque style. Their sumptuous interiors were complemented by elaborate monstrances, candelabra, sanctuary lamps and censers. Awe-inspiring altar silver drew the eyes of the faithful towards the Eucharist.

Descriptive line

Silver-gilt set with crystals, probably Mexico, 1690 - 1710, unmarked.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Oman, Charles. The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver: 1600-1665. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1968.
Martín, Cristina Esteras. Platería hispanoamericana en el Museo Victoria y Alberto, de Londres (Nuevas aportaciones). In: Jesús Rivas Carmona, ed.. Estudios de platería. San Eloy 2006. Murcia: Universidad, 2006, pp. 191-204.
Esteras Martín, Cristina. Juan de Padilla y la custodia mexicana de Castromocho. Cuadernos de Arte Colonial. May 1988, vol. 4, pp. 67-77.

Labels and date

Sun Monstrance
The function of a monstrance is to display the Sacred Host, the bread that is miraculously transformed into the body of Christ during the service of Mass. The host would have been placed inside the window in the crescent-shaped holder called a ‘lunula’. This example may have been placed on the altar as a focus for worship during the service of Benediction, or held up during church processions for all the congregation to see.

The sun is often used as a symbol of Christ’s regeneration and radiance. Monstrances made in the shape of the sun were very popular after the Counter Reformation of the mid 16th century, an intense period of reform within the Roman Catholic church. They featured particularly during the festival of Corpus Christi (meaning the ‘body of Christ’), an annual celebration of the Eucharist, the mystical moment of transformation.
Spain, about 1630
Silver gilt, set with crystals
Museum no. M.252-1956. Hildburgh Bequest [22/11/2005]

Materials

Silver-gilt; Crystal

Categories

Religion; Christianity; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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