Portugal Figurative Arts Part I

When Portugal became an independent state towards the middle of the 12th century, Romanesque art had reached its apogee: and from this art the properly Portuguese architecture began, especially in the north-western region of the country, already liberated from domination Muslim. The monks of Cluny founded monasteries and erected several religious buildings, not only large abbeys, but also many small rural churches. Portuguese architecture of the twelfth century, in its most complete form, that is, in the churches with three naves with vaulted roofs, is reduced to the cathedrals of Braga, Oporto, Coimbra, Lamego, Lisbon and Évora. The other minor churches have a single nave, with a wooden roof and with ornaments characteristic of the Romanesque, classical, Byzantine, Visigothic styles, as well as some regional motifs created by local workers. The cathedral of Braga, prior to the formation of the Portuguese state, served as a model for all the builders of the region of Entre Douro and Minho, where there are a number of small Romanesque churches, even along the Spanish border, such as those of Ourada, Paderne, Melgaço, Monsão, which are influenced by the Galician cathedral of Tuy. Further south you can see the churches of Rio Mau, Rates, Paço de Souza, Pombeiro, Fonte Arcada; then the beautiful cathedral of Coimbra, in the center of the region; then St. Peter of Leiria and St. John of Alporão of Santarem; finally, the cathedrals of Lisbon and Évora. The decoration is floral, with mixes of strange monsters of oriental fauna derived from Syriac manuscripts; the representation of the human figure is rare and is reduced to the figures of the columns in the church of Bravães, where you can see the minstrel who accompanied the pilgrims to St. James of Compostelle, and to some gross figures in the tympanums of the portals of Rates and Rio Mau. The most beautiful and best preserved of the Portuguese Romanesque churches is the cathedral of Coimbra with a noble and simple crenellated façade, with the central body protruding in the form of a porch in the Lombard style, with a rich columned portal with a decorated shaft. Internally it resembles the great church of S. Giacomo di Compostella; it has three naves, of which the central one is covered with a barrel vault and the lateral ones with a cross vault. The cathedral of Évora represents the transition from Romanesque to Gothic in some details, but it is nevertheless of Romanesque structure: it has three naves, of which the central one with an ogive vault and the lateral ones with cross roofs. The two towers of the facade end with pinnacles covered with majolica tiles, a decorative custom derived from the Arab domination.

According to Barblejewelry, the small church of San Giovanni d’Alporão in the city of Santarem, now converted into a museum, clearly represents the transition from Romanesque to Gothic: on the robust Romanesque masonry there are ribbed vaults. The principles of ogival art, towards the end of the Romanesque period, can also be seen in the ambulatory of the Lisbon cathedral, in the chapel of Bartolomeu Joannes in the same church and perhaps, before that, in the cloister of the cathedral of Coimbra and in the monumental church. of Alcobaça.

The largest Gothic monument in Portugal is the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Batalha, built by King John I by a vow made in the battle of Aljubarrota (1385). Preceded, as mentioned, by the grandiose Cistercian church of Alcobaça (with three naves of equal height and ambulatory with radial chapels, according to the plan of the Chiaravalle abbey reproduced in it), the church of Batalha is the final result of all the research of Portuguese architects according to the principles of ogival architecture. It was designed by the Lisbon architect Alfonso Domingues and, in magnificence, had to please the king. It is a vast church with three naves, the central one of which is higher and with large windows; it has the transept and the median apse flanked by four apses. Of simple, austere lines, flamboyant, and decorated with curled foliage, the church from the outside shows that prevalence of horizontal lines which is characteristic of Portuguese buildings, very different from the rising profiles of northern Gothic. This Romanesque character is particularly evident in the southern portal.

The funeral chapel of the Founder leans against the southern façade. In it, King John I rests in a single tomb with his wife, Queen Filippa, surrounded by his children, an illustrious generation who filled the history of Portugal with heroic deeds. The chapel has a square plan; in the center rises an octagon formed by bundles of columns that rise to support, like a superb canopy, the central dome with a starry vault. Around, within monumental arcosoles, decorated with rich flamboyant- style ornamentation, the king’s sons are buried. The successor of John I had a funeral chapel of the same style built on the rear of the monument, in the form of an octagon with deep niches, intended to contain his remains and those of the family; the chapel remained unfinished; in the sec. XVI King Emanuele ordered to finish it; and because not even then it came to an end, it was called Capelas imperfeitas.

Portugal Figurative Arts 1