An amazing highlight from the department of Antiques is a tower monstrance made of gilded silver from the Belgian workshop Bourdon from 1892. Expert Sabine Hofer explains its particularities.
What was your first impression when you saw the monstrance?
It came in an old, original, well preserved but unimpressive case. To open the case, and then to find this wonderful piece inside – that was a truly amazing surprise!
Pieces like these do not often come to auction?
No – and especially not in this particularly fantastic condition! It is beautifully preserved and has only very little signs of use. Like jewelry that is kept in a safe, this monstrance has probably been in its case forever. All the pinnacles are conserved, there are no damaged parts. Usually, there is a little stone or a figurine missing, or there would be scratches, but there is just nothing to find fault with here. This is very, very rare.
How did it find its way to you?
The collector – who has had ties to our house for years – has owned the monstrance for a long time, but did not want to part with it. He did always keep it in its case.
What do you know about its provenance?
It originates from the workshop of Bourdon, the most famous Belgian silversmiths in the 19th and 20th century. They were known internationally for their craft, everything was always executed in the highest quality. Already when placing an order, the clients – often nobility and clericals – knew that they would get a work of art. Edouard Bourdon took over the workshop from his father and worked on several pieces with the designer Leon Bressers. We did find the original designs for “our” monstrance in the archives.
Who could have ordered such a monstrance?
We do not know for sure, but because of the figurines of the saints, we believe that it might have been a Benedictine monastery, or such a monastery had been gifted the piece by a rich patron. Because for sure, he would have had to be wealthy! To have materials such as silver, enamel, crystal and precious stones handled and treated by such a famous workshop, you had to have wealth and a certain connoisseurship.
What was such a monstrance used for?
Probably, it was an object of prestige for a chamber of treasures. One can open the glass cylinder in the center, and there is a half-moon shaped mount for an altar bread. Such a monstrance would have been used in the Roman Catholic Church for processions, like the Feast of Corpus Christi, and Eucharistic prayers. The priest would be holding up the monstrance during the blessing and worship, so that the community could see it.