The most famous work by a Portuguese goldsmith, recognised for its artistic merit and historical significance
Commissioned by the king Dom Manuel I for the Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Belém (Jerónimos), the Belém Monstrance can be attributed to the Portuguese goldsmith and playwright Gil Vicente. It was made with the gold paid as a tribute by the king of Kilwa (in present-day Tanzania), as a sign of vassalage to the crown of Portugal, and was brought to this country by Vasco da Gama on his return from his second voyage to India, in 1503. It stands as an excellent example of the taste for pieces conceived as micro-architectures in the late Gothic period.
Designed to house the consecrated host and exhibit it for the veneration of the congregation, it presents the twelve apostles kneeling in the centre, with a swinging dove hovering above them, in white enamelled gold, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and, in the upper level, the figure of God the Father, holding the globe of the Universe. In this way, moving in an upward direction, the monstrance materialises the representation of the Holy Trinity.
The armillary spheres, the emblem of king Dom Manuel I, which mark out the knot of the central stem as if uniting two worlds (the earthly world, which spreads across the base, and the supernatural world, which rises upwards at the top of the piece), appear as the fullest possible consecration of the royal power at that historic moment of overseas expansion, confirming the spirit of the device of the Fortunate King.