Writ recognizing Fernando Padilla Dávila as an hidalgo (1550) by Condes de Gómara y familia Arias de SaavedraAndalusian Archives
A patent of nobility was a legal document containing information on the judgment through which an individual was granted noble status.
When the status of a "hidalgo" (or noble) was granted, the individual became a member of the lower, untitled nobility.
As well as privileged social standing, the status came with tax advantages and economic benefits, as nobles were exempt from certain taxes and duties.
In a society as hierarchical as the Spanish Old Regime, "hidalgos" worked hard to establish a series of visible symbols that would make it clear that they were part of the nobility. All these symbols had a common feature: extolling the past and emphasizing the family lineage.
This Patent of Nobility was issued at the request of Fernando Padilla Dávila, an alderman in Jerez de la Frontera. In 1557, he took a claim to the Chancellery of Granada against Jerez council's intention to charge him a tax on meat and fish.
In his claim, he requested that his status as a nobleman be legally declared, which would exempt him from paying the tax.
The way the formal version of a patent of nobility was made depended on the economic means of the person commissioning it. That is why the document was decorated with letters, borders, and miniatures or vignettes, all of which imbued the document with greater significance.
The wealth of details on this document suggests that the claimant was financially well-off.
It is a richly decorated and beautifully illuminated document, whose contents are written in blackletter Gothic script with the initials in golden ink, inside a border that is handsomely adorned with plant motifs.
The borders, in the form of strips or bands, frame the text of these documents and are also decorative motifs.
They usually mimicked the designs and styles found in books, and were the work of professionals whose job it was to decorate documents.
Miniatures—small drawings used to illustrate patents of nobility—varied greatly in the themes they depicted and in their artistic quality. They are of great interest as reflections of the artists' social reality and symbolic universe.
Some of the most commonly-featured themes include the noble estate, represented by the heraldry of the noble family in question. Coats of arms are a quintessential symbol of the nobility, since they are used exclusively by noble families.
Religious representations in the form of devotional engravings were also very common.
They provide information on private religious practices, and reflect forms of worship and veneration linked to specific geographical areas and social classes. The purpose of the image is to link members of the family's lineage to a dedication, reflecting the piety of the time.