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.
Legends and myths are often responsible for building a cultural identity that is not written but that is transmitted orally and, as such, is in constant evolution.
In Portugal the Camino de Santiago (St James’s Way) is a central axis of reading and knowledge of the territory and the identity of the communities in the most diverse registers, with legends, stories, churches, convents, monasteries, fountains, cruises and the authenticity of the places that have become accustomed to live with pilgrims.
The legend of the Barcelos rooster is one of those oral traditions that has managed to go a long way, since it materialised and associated itself with a beautiful piece of traditional figurine from Barcelos – the Rooster, a symbol that today represents Portugal in the world .
This legend is associated with the medieval cruise that is found in the Paço dos Condes de Barcelos and tells us that the inhabitants of the town were alarmed by a crime and, even more, by the fact that the criminal who had committed it was not discovered.
One day a Galician appeared who became suspicious. The authorities decided to arrest him and despite his oaths of innocence, no one believed that the Galician was going to Santiago de Compostela, and that he was a devotee of Santiago. So he was sentenced to hang.
Before he was hanged, he asked to be taken to the presence of the judge who had condemned him. Granted the authorisation, they took him to the residence of the judge who, at that moment, was feasting with some friends. The Galician returned to affirm his innocence and, in the face of the incredulity of those present, pointed to a roast rooster that was on the table, exclaiming: “It is so certain that I am innocent, how certain it is that rooster crows when they hang me”. Laughter and comments started, but, anyway, no one touched the rooster.
What seemed impossible, however, became reality! When the pilgrim was being hanged, the rooster rose on the table and sang. At that time the judge no longer doubted the convict’s innocence claims. He ran to the gallows and saw the poor man with the rope around his neck. However, the feeble knot prevented strangulation. Immediately released, he was sent in peace. After a few years, he returned to Barcelos and raised the monument in praise of Santiago and the Virgin.
A legend then old, but that the rooster was not always a symbol of that country. So, when and why did the Barcelos rooster become a national symbol?
It was António Ferro who hoisted the Rooster, the work of artisans from Barcelos, to the status of national symbol.
In 1931, at the V International Congress of Dramatic, Musical and Literary Criticism, which took place in Lisbon, the Barcelos rooster made its first international appearance. The person responsible was Antonio Ferro, then a journalist and figure in the national literary medium, who later became known as the head of Salazar’s propaganda. And the thing caught on, to the point that there was no Portuguese house, that it did not have the rooster, with a red crest and many showy colours. Ferro’s idea was inscribed in the image of the country that he helped to build, rural and folk, “poor but happy”.
What is certain is that the Barcelos Rooster has resisted the time and the advent of Democracy and thus remains a source of inspiration for artists from all over the country.