Missal stand (atril)


Object Place: Probably Moxos missions, Alto Peru (present-day Bolivia)


Overall: 29.5 x 34.8 x 27 cm, 2.6 kg (11 5/8 x 13 11/16 x 10 5/8 in., 5.7 lb.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)




Silver hollowware

Formed of five sheets of silver with a simple replaced wooden framework, the slanted central portion of the stand has been repousséd with an elliptical boss on which is chased the Jesuit seal containing the letters “IHS,” with a cross above and three nails below. Covered throughout with repousséd and chased decoration, the pattern is bilaterally symmetrical. Passion flowers and vines form the primary subject matter; a pair of “hombre verde,” or green men, flank the Jesuit seal, and a pair of viscachas emerges from the greenery below the seal. An angel-like grotesquerie emerges from a foliate bud located centrally on the lower skirt of the stand. Cast sphinxlike creatures are affixed to the two front corners, and three small floral elements are attached to the stand’s upper edge.

The bold floral and figurative work on this missal stand is similar to that seen in the preceding ornamental plaques. The stand is perhaps most notable for its inclusion of the mountain viscacha, an animal indigenous to South America. A member of the chinchilla family, this small and timid plant-eating rodent with large rabbitlike ears became a popular decorative element in silver and textiles of the postconquest period. The passion flower is depicted as a strawberry-shaped fruit on the side of the stand.
The missal stand is intended to support a copy of the liturgical book of the Roman rite that is used by the priest during Mass. The stand would have been placed nearby on the altar so that the officiant could refer to it as needed. Because of its orientation toward the congregation, the missal stand was finished on the front and two sides but left open and unfinished at the back.

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.


“IHS” in raised letters chased within an elliptical boss at center of stand.




April 14, 1975, sold by Alphonse Jax (dealer), New York, to Landon T. Clay, Boston [see note]; 2001, year-end gift of Landon T. Clay to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 23, 2002)

NOTE: According to Alphonse Jax at the time of the sale, this entered the United States from Argentina and was cleared by U.S. Customs on April 7, 1975. The donor, however, later recalled that he purchased it from the Edward Merrin Gallery, New York.

Credit Line

Gift of Landon T. Clay