Breast Strap (pretal)
Object Place: Argentina
Overall: 123.2 x 7.3 cm (48 1/2 x 2 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The cast and ornamented plaques include a central unadorned shield shape, flanked by cornucopia, and two floral bosses, interspersed with vertical bands. Linked and woven chains connect the whole to cast floral buckles at each end.
It is a by-word that at Mexico four things are fair; that is to say, the women, the apparel, the horses, and the streets. But to this I may add the beauty of some of the coaches of the gentry, which do exceed in cost the best of the Court of Madrid and other parts of Christendom, for they spare no silver, nor gold, nor precious stones, nor cloth of gold, nor the best silks from China to enrich them. And to the gallantry of their horses the pride of some doth add the cost of bridles and shoes of silver.
The first horses were brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century, and they immediately became an essential resource for colonial and local populations. Highly valued commodities, horses were used for travel across rough terrain and on shorter pleasure trips, and some were engaged in more prosaic duties in domestic and farm life. The handsomest of these animals were the proud possessions of the landed gentry, who bred and dressed them for display.
Perhaps best known are the horses used by South American cowboys, or gauchos, for managing herds of cattle on the pampas, the vast, treeless plains south of the Amazon. Rivaling the American cowboy as the subject of romantic literature, legend, and music, the gaucho and his horse were especially renowned in Argentina. Their arrival was often heralded by the flash of silver and the jingle of spurs.
The Spanish brought with them a rich vocabulary and technical knowledge in the making and use of equestrian trappings, a result of some seven hundred years of occupation by the Moors, themselves highly skilled in the breeding, judging, and riding of horses. The gauchos required horses that were particularly suited to hard life on the pampas, and both man and animal were outfitted with a full range of riding equipment in leather, iron, and silver.
The breast strap was a large and showy piece. It was connected to the saddle with another strap that passed between the horse’s legs, which was used to prevent the saddle from slipping. The cornucopia at the center of this example, also seen on the horse’s bit that in the next entry (cat. no. 410), is a Neoclassical motif popular through the end of the nineteenth century.
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.
Collected in Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves between 1898 and 1913.
Gift of Miss Ellen Graves, Mrs. Samuel Cabot and Mrs. Roger Ernst in memory of their father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Edmund P. Graves