Vitrina Cero: 'One piece, two lives'
Created on July 27, 2021
Like human beings, objects are the sum of their various life experiences. Discover the second live of this objects.
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ONE PIECE, TWO LIVES: USES AND REUSES IN MEDIEVAL SPAINLike human beings, objects are the sum of their various life experiences. At times, they were reused as tribute, gifts or war booty, driven by the steady traffic of goods, especially between the Hispano-Islamic world and the Christian kingdoms. In other cases, reuse was motivated by their aesthetic or protective value. The phenomenon of giving new uses and meanings to objects was particularly intense during the Spanish Middle Ages, thanks to the permeability of the various cultures on the Iberian Peninsula. The pieces displayed here are a testament to this practice.
Some objects had several lives, as a consequence of how their owners used them. Some were reused but kept intact, integrated in other pieces due to their religious, aesthetic or protective value. Others served a radically different purpose, acquiring new uses in new contexts, where they were either updated and modified or maintained their original features. In other contexts, these objects were altered for uniquely aesthetic reasons, seeking new languages of visual expression.
INTEGRATION1. Medal of Saint Helena1184-1191 (coin) / 18th century (frame)Nicosia (Cyprus)Medals of Saint Helena, like the one shown here, are a perfect example of objects that were reused without compromising their integrity. This particular medal was made with a Byzantine billon coin of Isaac Komnenos of Cyprus featuring the enthroned Virgin on the reverse. These pieces became amulets based on the belief that Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, had used them to purchase the secret about the place where the True Cross was hidden. As protective elements, they were worn in contact with the body as pendants or bracelets after being mounted in silver frames.
INTEGRATION2. Tabernacle door1200-1250 (bone plates) / 17th century (tabernacle door)Rhinish workshop (bone plates)Convent of Santa Clara (Santiago de Compostela)The beauty, exclusivity and quality of these bone figures, taken from a medieval casket made in a Rhenish workshop (Germany), gave them a second life centuries later when they became part of a Baroque tabernacle door. The figures came from a casket that presumably made its way to Santiago de Compostela thanks to Jacobean pilgrimages.
UPDATE AND ADAPTATION3. Enamel plaque turned into a lockLate 12th / early 13th centuryThis plaque may have originally been the cover of a copper pax or evangeliary and was later perforated to turn it into a lock. The depiction of a haloed Christ seated on a rainbow, giving his blessing and holding a book in his hand, is evidence of its original use. Between the ridge lines, we can see the hollow for the enamel inlay.
UPDATE AND ADAPTATION 4. Foot of a cross or reliquary turned into a salt cellar1400-1425Barcelona workshopNew functions and uses give new life to objects. A case in point is this silver and enamel reliquary, originally associated with a religious and devotional context, which was turned into a salt cellar by adding a concave plate to the top. It thus became part of a secular, utilitarian setting as a tableware element. Its form and decoration reflect Gothic architecture in miniature.
UPDATE AND ADAPTATION 5. Sliding lid11th-13th century / 16th-17th centurySicily or Al-AndalusPieces like this ivory sliding lid, possibly from a moneyer’s box, were updated to suit new tastes and sensibilities. Sometime after it was made, the plain, undecorated spaces left between the geometric and plant motifs typical of Islamic art were filled with images related to Christian iconography.
NEW USES 6. Casket11th centuryAl-AndalusTreasure of the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro (León)Some objects, like this Taifa-period casket of silver and niello, retained their original shape and structure but were put to different uses. The decorative programme, typical of Hispano-Islamic secular settings, combines plant and zoomorphic elements with epigraphic formulas of happiness and prosperity. Originally designed as a very exclusive gift to hold perfumes or jewellery, it was later used as a reliquary and became part of the ecclesiastical assets of the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro after it was donated by the monarchs of León in 1063.
NEW USES7. Casket of Saint Martin from Cea11th century / 17th century (inscription)SicilyLuxury objects of high material and aesthetic value were reused in particularly important Christian contexts. This is the case of this ivory casket, probably made in Norman Sicily and reused as a reliquary in a Christian context. It contained the remains of Saint Martin Cid, according to the handwritten inscription referencing the founder of the Monastery of Bellofonte (Valparaíso, Zamora) that was added on the back in the 17th century.
AESTHETIC ALTERATION8. Agate Casket11th centuryTreasure of the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro (León)This piece, known as the Agate Casket, is a fine example of how certain objects received aesthetic makeovers. The casket is decorated with agates set in a nielloed silver mount, with semi-circular and stilted arches typical of the Romanesque style. The subsequent alteration of the base with a repoussé silver mount reflects Gothic tastes.
AESTHETIC ALTERATION9. Processional cross14th century (cross) / 16th century (crucified Christ)Castilian-Aragonese workshop (cross)Changing mentalities, religious sensibilities and aesthetic tastes are reflected on this processional cross which combines two artistic languages, Gothic and Renaissance. The original cross was made in the 14th century and had a central figure, traces of which are still visible. In the 16th century that figure was replaced by the Christ we see today, whose anatomy and expressiveness are more in keeping with Renaissance canons.