Splendours of Renaissance Spain

Continuing on with our exploration of Renaissance era vestment work, today I wanted to turn your attention to two vestment sets coming from Spain and the Spanish tradition.  First, let's discuss what is common between the two sets.  

In the first instance, both sets utilize gold and polychrome silk embroideries set onto red velvet. Red velvets were particularly popular during this period of time and, as a result, the material was readily available. What's more, because of it's culturally perceived beauty and nobility this lent itself to its use within the context of divine worship -- which, as the Catholic mind would properly understand it, deserves only the very best that we have to offer. (By way of digression, this marks the fundamental difference in the way some of our contemporaries tend to view such matters. By means of a rather narrow, worldly mindset -- ironically the very thing they believe they stand against -- some moderns tend to divorce objects such as these from their spiritual purpose, instead of seeing them primarily through worldly and secular eyes. As a result, they tend to mainly see such objects in terms of their monetary value, not their spiritual value as an offering to God and as instruments of divine worship -- but that is a topic for another day.) 

Both sets were originally in the possession of the Parroquia Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Our Lady fo the Assumption) in Ullíbarri-Viña, both are now located in Vitoria's Museo Diocesan de Arte Sacro and both are characterized in their form by shapes and cuts that are typical to Spain in the second half of the second millennium. 

Our first set was made between 1560-1580 and was produced during a period when the region was host to many noteworthy embroidery workshops -- workshops that would come to be characterized by their use of a Mannerist style. The orphreys on both the chasuble and the cope contain architectural niches done in a Renaissance style which each contain imagery of various saints -- saints such as St. John the Baptist, St. Bartholomew, St. Paul, St. Andrew and St. Gines.  However, the most striking embroidery is that which is found on the shield of the cope which portrays an image of the crowned Virgin being assumed into heaven -- which is also the patronal feast of the parish in which these were originally located it should be remembered. 

The second set is dated to circa 1600-1625. While less ornate than the previous set, it is impressive in its own right. As you will see, its construction and features are very much akin to the previous set -- though in this particular instance it should be commented that the gold thread embroidery has become tarnished; if it were to be restored/cleaned, the set would likely start to take on a palette of red and gold that would be more visually similar to the previous set. 

The chasuble includes floriated embroideries with medallions containing images of the saints. Also not be missed is the fact that at the top of the orphrey on the back of the chasuble are the "Arma Christi" -- symbols of the instruments of the Passion.  The cope's orphrey is not visible, but as with the previous cope it contains Renaissance styled architectural niches containing full figured imagery of the saints. The shield of this cope likewise includes an image of the Virgin and Child, this time the Virgin enthroned. It is worth pointing out that there is an attempt here to utilize perspective in this shield depiction in order to give the portrayal a sense of depth and linear space -- and as any student of art history will know, this was one of the fundamental turning points found in Renaissance art so it is certainly noteworthy on that front as well.

Some might wonder about the shapes of the shield or hood of these two copes. We have often shown copes done in a Venetian style which utilize this same shape: a pointed, curvilinear shield with an attached tassel.  While this is indeed found in Venice, it was also something that characterized the copes of Spain of the Habsburg's as well as parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire. This is perhaps a good reminder that while shapes and cuts frequently can and are assigned particular national designations (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.), one cannot slavishly adhere to these political boundaries in a simplistic way where matters such as these are concerned. Cultural and artistic influences frequently 'ignore' political boundaries (which were not as hard and fast now as they were then) and rather tend to align themselves to regional geography and the cultural interactions that were borne from mercantile trade routes and relationships. 

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