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  • Place of origin:

    Spain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1530 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Arfe, Enrique de (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, parcel-gilt, raised, pierced and chased

  • Credit Line:

    Dr W.L. Hildburgh Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 84, The Whiteley Galleries, case 6B

This plaque of St John is one of four depicting the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), the writers of the four Gospels in the New Testament. St John is represented with his 'attribute' or identifying symbol, an eagle.

The four plaques were probably once part of a large religious object such as a custodia, a towering architectural canopy which was carried over a monstrance during the annual parade and pageantry of the Corpus Christi ('Body of Christ') festival. Custodias were unique to Spain and reflected a national appetite for massive silver forms.

A further 16 plaques thought to be from the same source are also in the V&A. They depict scenes from the life of Christ and were possibly made by Enrique de Arfe, one of the most successful Renaissance goldsmiths in Spain, or by a goldsmith associated with his workshop. De Arfe trained in Cologne in Germany but spent much of his career on commissions for church silver, especially custodias, in Spanish cathedrals.

For the other plaques, see M.510:1 to16-1956.

Physical description

Circular curved plaque, pierced and embossed, depicting the Evangelist St John with an eagle.

Place of Origin

Spain (made)


ca. 1530 (made)


Arfe, Enrique de (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Silver, parcel-gilt, raised, pierced and chased

Marks and inscriptions



Diameter: 5 cm

Historical context note

The Spanish Church
The Catholic church dominated public and private life in Spain. Money and labour were lavished on religious art and images played a central role in daily worship. To ensure that goldsmiths focused on work for the crown and the church, the authorities brought in a series of sumptuary laws that limited the secular display of gems and precious metals.

By 1550 the silver mines in Peru and Mexico were generating enormous wealth for Spain and feeding the traditional taste for massive silver forms. They included the custodia, a towering architectural canopy that was unique to Spain. It was paraded through parishes during the Corpus Christi festival to display the Sacred Host (consecrated bread). The custodia embodied many characteristics of Spanish church plate. It was sculptural, highly visible and richly imaginative in design.

With the Counter Reformation, Spain became a triumphant defender of a revitalised Catholic faith. Silver altar vessels and entire altars, processional crosses, custodias and sanctuary lamps frequently appeared in goldsmiths' contracts.

Descriptive line

Silver, parcel-gilt, Spain, ca.1530, possibly by Enrique de Arfe

Labels and date


The curved plaques depict the four Evangelists with their identifying symbols: the angel of St Matthew, the winged lion of St Mark, the ox of St Luke and the eagle of St John. They were probably decorative fragments from a custodia. The flat plaques may have adorned a processional cross and show St John and the Virgin Mary, both in mourning for the death of Christ. The maker is possibly Enrique de Arfe, a native of Cologne who settled in Léon and founded one of Spain's most outstanding goldsmithing families, renowned for making massive custodia.

Spain, about 1530, possibly by Enrique de Arfe
Silver, parcel-gilt
W.L. Hildburgh Bequest
Museum nos. M.510:17-22-1956 [22/11/2005]

Production Note

Possibly by de Arfe or a goldsmith associated with his workshop


Silver; Silver-gilt


Piercing; Chasing; Raising


Christianity; Religion; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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