Today is the day dedicated to Art and I decided to write an article about one of the Portuguese works of art that I love the most.
It is the most famous work of Portuguese jewelry, for its artistic merit and historical significance: the Monstrance of Belém, exhibited at the MNAA (National Museum of Ancient Art) in Lisbon.
Ordered by King D. Manuel I for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém (Better known as Jerónimos Monastery), the Ostensory of Belém is attributable to the goldsmith and playwright Gil Vicente.
It was made with the gold of the tribute of the Régulo de Quilôa (in present Tanzania), in a sign of vassalage to the crown of Portugal, brought by Vasco da Gama on the return of his second trip to India, in 1503, it is a good example of the taste for pieces conceived as microarchitecture in the final Gothic.
Intended to guard and expose the consecrated host to the veneration of the faithful, it presents, in the center, the twelve apostles kneeling, hovering over them a oscillating dove, in white enameled gold, symbol of the Holy Spirit, and, in the upper plane, the figure of God the Father, who sustains the globe of the Universe, thus materializing, in the ascension sense, the representation of the Most Holy Trinity.
The armillary spheres, symbols of King Manuel I, that define the knot, as if to unite two worlds (the terrain, which spreads at the base, and the supernatural, which rises in the upper structure), appear as the maximum consecration of royal power in this historic moment of oceanic expansion, confirming the spirit of the King’s company that was forever linked to the era of Portuguese maritime expansion.
A work that leaves truly speechless for the artistic quality, the materials and the perfection of its realization in the smallest details.
The MNAA preserves this and many representative works of Portuguese and international art; a place that art lovers cannot miss. Even better if accompanied by an art historian in love with this Museum 😉
So, what do you expect to book a visit with me?
The production of products in black clay, produced in the village of Bisalhães, in the municipality of Vila Real, is an ancestral process that involves cooking the pieces made by potters in open ovens in the earth.
The Bisalhães black clay manufacturing process, in Vila Real, was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage that needs urgent safeguarding by UNESCO.
The inclusion in the Unesco list will also “motivate the implementation of a wide-ranging safeguard plan that the municipality of Vila Real idealized, ranging from the training of potters, through the certification of the process and even the encouragement of the emergence of new uses and designs for this unique material “.
The main problem with this activity is the aging of potters. Currently, there are five who make this art their main activity and most are over 75 years old. This is considered a tough, demanding job, using processes that date back to at least the 16th century.
It is, in fact, a lengthy job that goes through different stages, from storing and separating the clay in the ‘granary’, when chopping it, sifting it to the ‘trough’, where it is mixed with water, until the “ peis ”, kept in humid places and then used by potters who must still soften them and remove excess air. This is how the ‘embolized’ is achieved, expertly placed in the center of the low wheel, at the pace intended by the potter, who gives birth to the pieces we admire so much.
Then, they are placed in the air to dry, so that women can ‘gogar’ (decorate), using small stones, drawing flowers, leaves and lines, or other motifs, whose taste or inspiration of the moment, they can represent.
This is followed by cooking, one of the main steps in the process, perhaps the one that most characterizes Bisalhães Pottery, as it is during the same period, in open ovens on earth, that the dishes acquire the characteristic black color.
After this hard mission, they are removed and cooled, one by one, small, small, medium and large wonders that, with skill and knowledge, are cleaned of dust, with careful pieces of rags. Then, they are placed in baskets, by the women, who tirelessly help in this whole process, transporting them to their homes, in order to prepare them for the sales stalls, reaching us two fantastic types of crockery: the so-called ‘Churra crockery ‘(utilitarian), oven bowls, baking dishes, cutlery, and the’ Fina ‘(decorative) crockery, secret jars, donut jars, plates, etc.
Despite all these initiatives, are there only 5 potters left? How to keep this art alive and how to attract new artisans to this art?
Over decades, the transmission of knowledge to the new generations (either within the village families or in the fruitless training courses carried out), has not been safeguarded by the local community. This is a reality that prevents new artisans from coming into this art.
The hard work of the process of making Louça Preta de Bisalhães (transportation, collection of raw materials, preparation of pieces, cooking and sale process), the traditional division of tasks, with the intervention of women, the little social valorization of this art, leading family production units, mainly the younger generations, to emigrate, looking for new ways of life, the progressive replacement of pieces of black clay by other objects of industrial manufacture, are also some of the great reasons for the abandonment in the production of Bisalhães crockery. The hope comes from two young and promising potters who, with their perseverance, have given continuity to all this knowledge and in which, despite different vicissitudes, we maintain the desire to project what we all intend, the continuity of the Bisalhães Pottery.
The Figurado of Barcelos is an unavoidable art, constituting itself as one of the greatest traditional productions in Portugal, due to the relevance that work in clay has acquired over the centuries and its connection to people and the region.
This art was mainly concentrated in the north-eastern part of the city, which was richer in clay and water
Figurado is a certified production since 2008. This fact makes Barcelos the first municipality to certify this popular artistic expression, which is the identity root of a territory that sought to enhance and affirm its unique art.
Assorted figuration was the designation adopted for the statuary pieces of popular expression, produced in the pottery tradition region of the current municipality of Barcelos, where they fit from small pieces entirely modeled by hand, to pieces produced in small molds or through mixed techniques used in this production. This group also included pieces modeled by hand, without mold, such as pitas, harmonicas and some roosters. Pieces started in mold and finished by hand, such as musicians and oxen, belong to the same universe. In the same way, pieces produced from a base form, raised on the potter’s wheel and which were also finished by hand, such as wheel cocks, nightingales and bugles, are included in this group. With the same designation of figurative, the pieces produced in mold were still known, but with a naive or primitive finish.
The diversity of this production is born from the skilled hands of baristas who reproduce everything they see and feel. The themes on which this production is mirrored are, in turn, religion and festivals, bestiary, daily life, various figures and miniatures. In this context, it is important to highlight the most characteristic pieces within each theme. In the theme of religion and festivals, representations of Christs and Saints predominate, as well as religious practices. The world of the fantastic, represented by the bestiary presents monsters, devils and deformed figures that unite the sacred and the profane in the Figurado. Representations of scenes from rural life, crafts, professions and dolls dominate the range of Figurado pieces, showing the importance of everyday life as inspiration for this production. In the category of single figures, emblematic pieces appear, such as roosters, hedgehogs, doves, oxen and goats. Among others, the famous Rooster stands out (you can read my post on September 1, 2020 https://lisbon-a-love-affair.com/2020/09/01/the-rooster-of-barcelos-how-was -this-portuguese-symbol-born /)
As for the mode of production, modeling, molding and turning are the techniques used in the production of the Figurado de Barcelos, used alone or combined with each other, with modeling being the most important and most valued, since the personal intervention of the craftsman is totally or practically total.
Finally, considering the identity of the Figurado, it will be impossible not to mention one of the most charismatic names of this art: Rosa Ramalho, the figure that drew the attention through which this unique art spread in the most urban and elitist environment.
Rosa Ramalho learned to work with clay very early, but abandoned this art to dedicate herself to her family. It was when she was a widow, aged 68 and illiterate, that she began to produce the pieces that made her famous. Discovered in 1950 for the collector Alexandre Alves Costa during his research on popular art. His works are dramatic and creative and show great imagination at the same time.
The Figurado de Barcelos, certified artisanal product, is currently one of the largest artisan productions in the county. This production started as a subsidiary activity of pottery, in their spare time and using small portions of clay, small pieces were made for children to play, namely figures of people or animals where a whistle or musical instruments were placed at the base of them (ocarinas, nightingales, cuckoos, harmonicas, among others). The Figurado de Barcelos is distinguished from any other production, assuming unique characteristics, both in shapes and colors. If you want to watch the making of a figure, I leave this video here.
The Cantarinha of Guimarães’ is a gift widely offered by the time of São Valentim, thus keeping an old tradition alive which is currently fed by the hands of masters of the pottery.
According to tradition, when a boy was ready to make the official marriage proposal, he first offered his girl a cantarinha, molded in clay. If the gift was accepted, the private request was formalized, and the announcement of the engagement depended only on the parents’ wishes. Once the consent was given, the cantarinha then served to keep the gifts that the groom and the bride’s parents offered, namely gold pieces.
Currently, the cantarinha are no longer properly used to ask someone for a hand or to store jewelry, but are assumed to be “guardians” of secrets and love stories. “Whoever offers them, does so because of the symbolism they contain”, is made of red clay sprinkled with white mica.
There are the big Cantarinhas, symbol of abundance, of the future, of hope. And the small Cantarinha, symbol of real life, of the uncertainties of the future and the small happiness of everyday life.
The Cantarinha was used, as well as valentine’s handkerchiefs, (October 14th article) as a symbol of acceptance or rejection of a dating / engagement request. If there was parental consent, the engagement was announced and the dowry treated, and the gifts offered to the bride and groom were placed in Cantarinha (gold cords, trancelets, crosses, hearts). Another version says that raffles were placed inside Cantarinha. The girl then took one at random that corresponded to a gift. Cantarinha of lovers is the most common name, but two more are added: Cantarinha of the gifts and Cantarinha of Guimarães.
In addition to its significance as a matchmaking object, which is its great attribute, Cantarinha dos Namorados is also a pottery product of excellence in terms of Portuguese handicrafts. Made of red clay baked for seven hours, and ornamented with small flourishes, there is an undeniable elegance when we look at it, and we understand why the girls who received this artifact in their hands melt.
It is made up of three parts: the base singlet, clearly larger, representing the couple’s prosperity; the little song that overlaps this one, noticeably smaller, symbolizing the problems that any pair of newlyweds or couples have to face; and finally, the shot is made with a bird, which some say is the secret keeper of the relationship.
When we visit a Portuguese city, one of the first features we observe is under our feet. I am talking about the Portuguese cobblestone pavement, a true work of art that with various drawings decorates the Portuguese cities.
But what is the history and origin?
There is a story that tells us that the Portuguese sidewalk originates because of a rhino. Do you remember Ganga, D Manuel’s white rhino? If you still don’t know him, you can read his story in my October 29th article on my blog (https://lisbon-a-love-affair.com/en/2020/10/29/o-rinoceronte-do-rei/ )
Now, it all starts with the arrival of the rhino.
On the birthday of the Rhino that only leaves once a year in the winter on January 21st, a huge procession was organized that would take to the streets of Lisbon showing the new riches of the king who arrived from the east. In this procession, Ganga could not be missing, obviously and so that the richly ornamented rhino would not wallow in the mud, soiling himself and those around him, D. Manuel ordered the streets where the procession would pass to be paved.
The royal letters of 20 August 1498 and 8 May 1500, signed by King D. Manuel I of Portugal, mark the beginning of paving the streets of Lisbon, most notably Rua Nova dos Mercadores (formerly Rua Nova dos Ferros)
It was used granite from Porto, however its transport made the work expensive for the coffers of the kingdom, but the Rhino deserved it
This was how the Portuguese sidewalk appeared, more irregular than we know it today, but it was its beginning.
Subsequently, the 1755 earthquake destroyed much of the city and its cobbled streets with it. But only in 1842 Lisbon would see a reconstructed sidewalk again, this time with limestone, usually white and black, material abundant in the region. In this way, practically cubic stones were applied, which is how we know them today and all over the world where Portugal left its mark.
The work was carried out by prisoners, at the behest of the Governor of arms of the Castle of São Jorge, Lieutenant-General Eusébio Pinheiro Furtado.
The design used on this floor was of a simple outline (zig-zag type) but, for the time, the work was somewhat unusual, having motivated Portuguese chroniclers to write about the subject.
After the success of the contract, funds were granted to Eusébio Furtado so that the prisoners also paved the Rossio Square, in an extension of 8,712m². This work ended in 1848, with drawings honoring Portuguese discoveries, and became known as Mar Largo. This fashion quickly spread throughout the country and the colonies, where authentic masterpieces were produced in pedestrian areas, ennobling the urban public space, in an ideal of modernization of cities.
Baixa de Lisboa changes with most of its streets to be paved with basalt, among them Largo de Camões in 1867, Príncipe Real in 1870, Praça do Município in 1876, Cais do Sodré in 1877 and Chiado, ending in 1894. Avenida da Liberdade opens in 1879 and in 1908 it finally arrives at Marquês de Pombal with wide sidewalks where beautiful and dazzling design carpets were introduced, making Lisbon the reference city for this type of artistic floor .
But the sidewalk is not only found in Portugal. In the century XV the overseas territories of Portuguese influence also saw the stone of the same origin line their streets
This was due to the fact that many of the ships leaving for these destinations go empty, in order to return loaded with local goods and merchandise, and for this reason they need to increase their cargo and thus guarantee their navigation stability – the so-called ballast. The solution found was to load the Portuguese stone vessels from Lisbon.
A distant example of this expansion of the Portuguese pavement is Macau – former Portuguese administrative territory and perhaps the territory outside Portugal with the largest pavement area. The motifs of the drawings are, in the majority, of caravels, wind roses, shells, fish, stars or waves of the sea. Not even after 1999, when the sovereignty was transferred to the People’s Republic of China, this area decreased, on the contrary, even today this type of pavement is implemented, even by Chinese pavers, formed by Portuguese masters.
Currently, we can still find old Portuguese pavement pavements in Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, India or Timor. Or even find new examples, as in Spain or the U.S.
The tampering tools with the help of a hammer, make small adjustments in the shape of the stone, and use molds to mark the areas of different colours, so that they repeat the motifs in linear sequence (friezes) or in the two dimensions of the plan (patterns) . 20th century geometry demonstrated that there are a limited number of possible symmetries in the plan: 7 for the friezes and 17 for the patterns. A work of young Portuguese students recorded, on the sidewalks of Lisbon, 5 friezes and 11 patterns, attesting to its richness in symmetries.
The most common sidewalk application techniques stand out: the old Portuguese sidewalk, which is characterized by the irregular form of application of the stones; the gavel, similar but with more space between the stones; the classic Portuguese sidewalk, which has a diagonal application, according to a 45-degree alignment with the walls or curbs; the sidewalk to the row, with the stones lined up in parallel rows; the circular sidewalk; the hexagonal sidewalk; the artistic sidewalk, which is characterized by the application of stones with specific shapes and / or the contrast of colours; the Largo Mar; the segmented fan; the Florentine fan; and the peacock tail.
For a long time the drawings were made by amateurs with great skill, generally based on traditional motifs linked to the great achievement of the Portuguese – the Discoveries.
From the 1950s, some artists were invited to design motifs for the Portuguese sidewalk.
Nowadays the role of architects is fundamental in the design of reasons to apply to spaces in recovery, as in the old areas of Portuguese cities.
It is the masters themselves who create and develop new types of stone application depending on the taste and professional style.
In 1986, a Lisbon Calceteiro School was created by the Lisbon City Council with the sole purpose of training professionals, and teaching them the knowledge of old masters and thus ensuring the “survival” of the Portuguese sidewalk.
The origin of the filigree dates back to the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia. The oldest pieces date back to 2500 BC and were discovered in the, today, Iraq. Other pieces, discovered in Syria, date from approximately 2100 B.C.
It arrived in Europe via trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea, where it became relatively popular in the Greek and Roman civilizations. The oldest discoveries of filigree jewellery were made in modern Italy and are estimated to be from the 18th century. However, the filigree continued its journey and crossed borders to India and China. In the Far East, it was used mainly as a decorative element and not as jewellery.
But how does filigree differ from other jewellery arts?
In the way different fine threads draw patterns and are welded together in order to create a much larger piece. No other jewellery art uses a similar fusion technique to join gold threads. Today – as thousands of years ago – the different threads that make up each piece come together only by heat, without resorting to any other material or alloy.
The oldest filigree pieces discovered in the Iberian Peninsula date back to 2000 – 2500 BC, but their origin is unclear. Possibly, these pieces belonged to traders or navigators originating in the Middle East and were not manufactured here.
Only during the rule of the Romans, during the century. II BC, began to exist in the Peninsula.
But only thousands of years later, in the century. VIII, we were able to ensure with certainty that the filigree was being developed and produced in Portugal. It was with the arrival of Arab peoples that new patterns emerged and that, little by little, the filigree of the Peninsula began to differentiate itself from the filigree of other parts of the world.
The Portuguese filigree mostly represents nature, religion and love:
– the sea is represented with fish, shells, waves and boats;
– nature is the inspiration of flowers, clovers and wreaths;
- with religious motifs, we find crosses, like the Maltese cross, and reliquaries.
- love, of course, is the inspiration of all hearts in filigree.
Other iconic symbols of Portuguese filigree:
– The heart of Viana: a symbol of dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Queen Maria I was the one who, thankful for the “blessing” of having been given a male son, ordered a heart to be executed in gold.
Over time, the heart started to be related to “profane love”, a symbol of the connection between two human beings. It became so popular that the cornucopias and the lines of Coração de Viana began to be reproduced on handkerchiefs and embroidered on all types of fabrics. Eventually, this brought the recognition and popularity of Coração de Viana to the present day.
– Queen’s earrings: it is almost unanimous that queen earrings appeared in Portugal during the reign of Queen D. Maria I (1734 – 1816). The origin of the name, this, seems to go back to the reign of D. Maria II (1819 – 1853), who wore a pair of these earrings on a visit to Viana do Castelo in 1852. After this visit, they became popular as a symbol of wealth and status and won the name “queen earrings”.
– The arrecadas: they started being the earrings of the most humble population and that the most privileged classes started to imitate. At its origin were the Castrejas stonework, inspired by the quarter moon.
Today, filigree manufacturing in Portugal is mainly concentrated in the areas of Gondomar and Póvoa do Lanhoso. The proximity of the raw material – coming, for example, from the mountains of Pias and Banjas – made the region one of the most notable nuclei of the Portuguese jewellery. Even today, in 2018, Gondomar is responsible for 60% of the national jewellery production.
A curiosity: Portuguese gold is 19.2 carats (pure gold is 24).
The Minho region, in the north of Portugal, is known for the quality of its embroidery, so it is not surprising that it was the place where the tradition of the Valentine’s Handkerchief began.
It is said that in the past, Minho girls of marriageable age used to embroider their trousseau, but between one piece and the other, they secretly embroidered a small square, usually with love verses and some drawings.
This Handkerchief was kept with her until she had the opportunity to get him to the boy she loved. This usually happened at Sunday Masses, when she “absentmindedly” dropped him next to the boy. After embroidery, the scarf was given to the boyfriend and the fact that he used it publicly or not, that the courtship was decided. If he accepted, he would put the scarf over his Sunday coat, put it around his neck with the knot facing forward, wear it on the brim of his hat.
Otherwise, the scarf would return to the girl’s hands. If by chance, he accepted, but later changed his partner, he brought the scarf, and other objects that belonged to him, such as photographs, letters, to his former intended.
The scarves represent the girl’s feeling towards the boy, in which she writes small verses of love, or symbols.
The peak of this practice was between 1850 and 1950, especially in the cities of Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, Vila Verde, Telões and Aboim da Nóbrega. The writing was marked by spelling errors, since, for the most part, the girls who embroidered them were from humble families and with few studies.
Today the valentine’s scarf has become a funny souvenir and some older ones, when not family heirlooms, are on display in museums.
Basically the Valentine’s Handkerchief is a handkerchief made from a fine linen cloth or cotton scarf, embroidered with various motifs.
We often notice spelling errors in these handkerchiefs, which denounce the lack of education at the time.
Being embroidered with a cross stitch, these handkerchiefs were very laborious and time consuming, forcing the “embroiderer” to be very patient and careful in making them. Over time, other types of stitches that were easier and faster to embroider have been adopted. With this change the initial decoration of the scarves changes, the original colours of black and red, will give rise to a series of other colours and other decorative motifs. However, the main objective is never lost.
It is believed that it was from these handkerchiefs that the much larger Wedding Handkerchiefs appeared later on, that the bride wore on her head, or that wrapped the bouquet, as well as the pouches worn at the waist embroidered with beads and velvet ribbons.
Fortunately, this heritage has not been forgotten and, today, it remains one of the symbols of Portuguese culture and tradition.
The tradition of tiles in Portugal is not only old but also the most representative of the country. The story tells that it started when, in 1498, D Manuel I King of Portugal made a trip to Spain and marvelled at the splendour of the Moorish interiors and the colours of the wall coverings and murals.
Following his desire to build his residence in the image of the palaces visited in Seville, Toledo and Zaragoza, the tile arrived in Portugal. The National Palace of Sintra, which was used as his residence, became one of the best and most original examples of early Portuguese tiles, at that time still imported from factories in Seville.
Despite the archaic techniques coming from abroad, as well as the tradition of Islamic decoration in the decorative exaggerations of complex geometric patterns, its entry into Portugal denotes an influence of European taste due to the Gothic vegetable motifs and a particular Portuguese aesthetic.
But we start with order: where does the word azulejo come from? It is an Arabic term, azzelij, which means small polished stone and is the designation given to a ceramic artefact with little thickness, usually square, being one of the surfaces glazed as a result of firing the coating, called enamel, becoming this way bright and waterproof. This surface can have a single color or have several colours, be smooth or embossed.
The motifs represented vary between the narrations of historical circumstances, mythology, religion and various decoration motifs. The Portuguese overseas empire had an important influence on the diversity of forms; assimilated shapes and decorations of other civilisations.
Portuguese tiles represent the imagination of Portuguese people, their attraction to real history and their complicity in cultural exchange.The new tile industry is flourishing with orders from the nobility and clergy. Large panels are custom made to fill the walls of churches, convents, palaces, manors and gardens. The inspiration comes from decorative arts, textiles, jewellery, engravings and travels of the Portuguese to the East. Large scenographic compositions appear, a striking feature of the Baroque, with geometric, figurative and vegetal themes of exotic fauna and flora.
At the end of the 17th century, the quality of production and execution is higher, there are whole families involved in this art of making tiles, and some painters begin to assert themselves as artists, starting to sign their works, thus beginning the Masters Cycle .
After the 1755 earthquake, the reconstruction of Lisbon will impose another rhythm in the production of standard tiles, today called pombaline, used to decorate the new buildings. The tiles are manufactured in series, combining industrial and artisanal techniques. At the end of the 18th century, the tile is no longer exclusive to the nobility and the clergy, the wealthy bourgeoisie makes the first orders for their farms and palaces, the panels sometimes tell the story of the family and even of their social ascension.
From the 19th century, the tile gains more visibility, leaves the palaces and churches to the facades of the buildings, in a close relationship with architecture. The urban landscape is illuminated by the light reflected on the glazed surfaces. The tile production is intense, new factories are created in Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro. Later, already in the middle of the 20th century, the tile enters the railway and metro stations, and some are signed by renowned artists.
Thinking about the typical products of Portugal, we immediately think of the wine, such as the Port or the Madeira wine, or the splendid ceramics, the azulejos, hand-painted that decorate houses and gardens.
However, not everyone knows that Portugal is in first place in the world for cork processing with 53% of world production. In the Alentejo area, between Lisboa and the Atlantic coast, 72% of the total production of the entire country is concentrated and skilled craftsmen work cork here.
What do you get from cork processing? Virtually everything: caps, home accessories, fashion accessories, clothes and shoes, but also bags, furniture and floor or wall coverings.
Cork is a 100% natural product, it is soft, resistant, versatile, recyclable, hypoallergenic and has thermal properties keeping both heat and cold.
Cork is an element so important in the history of Portugal that we find traces of it in many monuments:
– The Convent de Santa Cruz do Buçaco and the Convent dos Capuchos of Sintra, for example, where the monks used cork to cover the walls and make the environment more comfortable and this is how we find some cells and some common areas with the walls covered cork.
– In the basilica da Estrela in Lisbon, you can admire the 18th century Nativity with terracotta figures on cork scenarios.
– The door jambs, windows and portholes of the Chalet of Countess of Edla in Sintra are decorated with cork elements.
– São Brás de Alportel (Algarve), owes its development to the cork industry and today is located in the center of the Rota da Cortiça (The Cork Road) through beautiful cork forests.
The cultivation of cork oaks is an art that requires time and a lot of patience. A cork oak takes 25 years to be productive and to be able to make the first extraction of cork. Between one extraction and another we have to wait 9 years and only after the third one we will have a fairly compact and usable cork. The cork boards are stacked outdoors, then they are boiled and divided according to thickness and quality. With the best boards, natural corks are obtained while the lower boards are used for soles for shoes or corks for common wines. Trees can live up to 400 years and ensure crops for 200 years.