Silverworks and sacred furnishings

13:46 01 October in Insights

argenti_tavarnelleThe core of the ecclesiastical furnishings displayed in the Museum of Sacred Art in Tavarnelle – apart from two exceptional 13th century crosses and some 14th-15th century exemplars – is made up for the most part by works in silver from the 18th and 19th centuries. The majority of these objects were crafted in Florentine workshops, as is demonstrated by the stamping: next to the city stamp (a walking lion turned to the left) could also appear the stamp of the assayer, who tested the alloy quality of the silver, and that of the maker, namely the silversmith who created the object.

Recent publications, based on the study of documents, have revealed not only the name of many goldsmiths but also news related to their work and the role held by them in the Silk and Assay Guild, permitting, in some cases, even to ascertain the year in which a particular object was made. Unfortunately, the stamping is often full of gaps or illegible or, at times, entirely missing. The names of the goldsmiths Antonio Mazzi, Giovan Battista Navarri, Zanobi Biagioni and of the assayers Adriano Haffner, Liborio Zazzerini, Vittorio Querci, refer to the Florentine workshops that Ferdinando I with the grand ducal decree of 25th September 1593 had transferred to the Ponte Vecchio.

The decision, imposed on the goldsmiths who previously worked in the new market area was taken partly for reasons of pride – to replace the butchers and spice sellers who were not suitable to the new roadway role assigned to the Ponte Vecchio, in line with Piazza della Signoriaria – but also partly to control the production of valuable fittings intended for noble dwellings and churches. The workshops were arranged on two floors differentiated by use. The first room, facing the street, served as a shop window; it was where the objects were displayed (even though often the workshop’s outdoor space served this purpose). In this room, sales took place and balances and account books were kept.

Candlesticks, crosses, incense boats, pyxes, but also large ornaments for altars and ciboria constituted important commissions; as well as the repair and restoration of sacred furnishings. Regarding the organization of work inside the workshop, only with the proclamation of 20th September 1703 did it become mandatory to report the names of workers so as to define the master’s role. The organization was extremely hierarchical, with the master at the top, in possession of a regular registration and therefore the owner of a mark that could be stamped on the workshop’s products. Like all the guilds, even that of the goldsmiths was extremely selective and it was very difficult to reach the rank of master. Entering into a workshop, apart through legitimate inheritance, could take place through death or renunciation in favor of a designated goldsmith, but always with the approval of the Consuls of the Silk Guild.

After the abolition of the Guild in 1770 and the institution of the Camera di Commercio Arte e Manifattura (i.e., Chamber of Commerce, Arts and Manufacture) – that liberalized the production operations and led the artisans to take over the management of the workshops – a general decline in the quality of handmade articles was witnessed, even if there still were some good workshops, such as that of the Guadagni family, who worked for churches and for the Lorraine court. A good number of silverworks from the 17th-18th centuries kept in the Museum bear stamps from Naples, where they had regulations and statutes similar to those in Florence: the Naples stamp is NAP with a crown above during the 17th century, or with the head of Parthenope and the number 8 during the 18th century. Among these silverworks, there is the monstrance by Niccolò de Angelis dated 1706 from the church of Santa Maria in Morrocco and probably donated by the Bastogi family that had a villa in Figlinelle.

in, Museo d’arte sacra di Tavarnelle Val di Pesa. Guida alla visita del museo e alla scoperta del territorio. A cura di Caterina Caneva. Polistampa 2005