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Exiled Navarrese heritage (12). Theft, alienation and sale of works of silverware.


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Diario de Navarra

Ignacio Miguéliz Valcarlos |

Chair of Heritage and Art in Navarre

The mobility of the works of silverware has been a constant throughout history, motivated by two of the main characteristics of these pieces, on the one hand its small size and weight, and on the other hand, its material wealth, which made them the ideal gift to be sent to their native towns by Navarrese who had made their fortune in other lands. And although this led to the arrival in Navarre of numerous pieces of silverware, constituting one of the most interesting chapters of Navarrese silverware, it was also the reason for the loss of many pieces of jewelry. Indeed, the value of the material with which these pieces were made was one of the main causes of their disappearance, since in times of economic need they resorted to silverware to melt it and get cash.

Wars and disentailments. The beginning of the end

The wars against the French and the Carlist wars that took place from the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth century resulted in a very important loss of silver works, especially those guarded by the church. In these conflicts it was necessary to add to the looting of some temples by the army, the request made by the government to the bishoprics of the silver of the churches to defray war expenses. The Bishops agreed to their submission, on the condition that if anyone was interested in buying any of the works, they would be sold, thus saving them from destruction. test of this is the presence of a monstrance from the church of Gazólaz in the chapel of San Fermín or another from Santa María de Olite in San Saturnino de Pamplona. To this must be added the disposals that took place during the ecclesiastical confiscations, which meant the dispersion of most of the silverware of these temples.

And to all this we must add several robberies that took place during these centuries, such as the one in the Cathedral of Pamplona in 1936 or those of San Miguel de Aralar and San Pedro de la Rúa in Estella in 1979. In the case of the first two, most of what was stolen was recovered, while in the case of Estella, pieces such as the crozier of the Bishop of Patras, a work in Limoges enamels made in the 13th century, were lost.

It is very difficult to keep track of the jewelry that has been sold, since there is rarely a description, drawing or photograph that allows us to identify them. However, the fact that these works were made in silver, the same that was used to mint legal tender, led to legislation to prevent fraud, forcing them to be stamped with two marks, that of the author and that of the town where they were made. While in other cases it is the inscriptions, heraldry or preserved documentation, which tells us about the alienation of pieces and their origin. The analysis of all this allows us to occasionally find the surprise of discovering works of Navarrese provenance in museums and foreign collections, and in the market.

Jewelry recovered by Museums

Thanks to documentation we know of the sale of some of these pieces. Thus, the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid bought in 1875 a 14th century crozier, carved in Avignon (France), from the monastery of Tulebras, where it had arrived in 1835, after the exclaustration of the monastery of Trasobares (Zaragoza). It presents the arms of the Luna family, so it is related to Pope Benedict XIII (1328-1423) and his sister, abbess in the Aragonese monastery. Different works from Navarre can also be found in other museums, such as the Museum of Decorative Arts or the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid.

Works belonging to private collectors

The marks, inscriptions and heraldry on some pieces have allowed us to recognize the Navarrese origin of jewelry belonging to private collectors. This is the case of an acetre from the Várez Fisa collection in Madrid, made known by Professor Esteras Martín in the cataloguing raisonné of this collection and in The piece of the month on the website of the Chair Patrimonio y Arte Navarro. It is a Baroque work, with marks of Pamplona and the silversmith José Yabar, and bears the coat of arms of Don José de Armendáriz (1670-1740), Marquis of Castelfuerte and Viceroy of Peru, the same ones that appear on the set of trays and jugs that he gave to the chapel of San Fermín in Pamplona. We do not know the origin of this piece, probably from one of the temples that Castelfuerte donated to, such as the extinct convent of the Benedictine nuns of Corella. Also of great interest is the faience from the Hernández-Mora Zapata collection in Madrid, carved by Miguel Lenzano and which served as model for the examination drawing made in 1772 by Lorenzo Laoz, who had been his apprentice.

Attention to auctions

Occasionally, the market has more surprises in store for us when we see works from Navarre appear, often misidentified. This is the case of some chrysmeras auctioned by Sotheby's in London in June 2021, attributed to the silversmith Hernando de Oñate el Mayor, erroneously identified by the auction house as a master from Zaragoza, being in reality one of the main 16th century Pamplona craftsmen, of whom similar chrysmeras are preserved in Enériz. While other times the provenance of the works is perfectly documented, in relation to which we must not forget the sale of the goods of the palace of the Counts of Guenduláin at Christie's in November 2005, in which pieces of silverware were sold, some of them fortunately recovered for the Museum of Navarre.