Juan de Arfe (1535-1603), who was centred in Valladolid, represented the third generation of a highly important family of Spanish goldsmiths, who originated from Harff near Cologne in Germany. They included Antonio and Enrique his father and grandfather, who together with Juan `created between them some of the most important surviving examples of Spanish ecclesiastical plate’1
Juan de Arfe published a number of influential works on architecture and sculpture, including the treaties in verse De Varia Commensuracion para la Esculptura y Architectura (Seville, 1585-7). This reflected the change in status of Spain’s Goldsmiths after 1552 when by order of Charles V they were recognised as artifices, artist craftsmen rather than manual workers. The signature on the plaquette is indicative of de Arfe’s status as self-described Platero de maconeria (Goldsmith-architect) and escultor de oro y plata (sculptor in gold and silver). The plaquette is dated 1580, the year that Juan de Arfe began to build the custodia (tabernacle to hold the monstrance) for Seville cathedral. Larger than 3 metres in height and weighing more over 400 kilos it is distinguished by the figural sculpture and work in low relief like this plaquette. De Arfe also worked for the court making a ewer and basin in silver-gilt with enamelled figures, for Philip III in 1599. They have apparently not survived but the large sum paid, 4054 ducats, signifies their magnificence.
1 J.F Hayward, Virtuoso Goldsmiths and the Triumph of Mannerism 1540-1620, London, 1976, p. 93. See also pages 192-193. Charles Oman, The Golden Age of Hispanic Silver 1400-1665, London, 1968, p. xx