Vitor Serrão, Fresco Paintings in Évora in the Second Half of the 16th Century: An Overview, e-conservation Journal 4, 2015
Available online 14 November 2015
Fresco Paintings in Évora in the Second Half of the 16th Century: An Overview
In terms of Art History, the patronage role of D. Teotónio de Bragança (1530-1602) is very significant during the period he was archbishop of Évora, since 1578 until his death. The undertaking of great building projects such as the Cartuxa Monastery and also several artistic decorations where he used the Tridentine principles in an updated way reflected the policy of this archbishop. He defended the restauro storico values of Cardinal Cesare Baronio and the revitalisation of the das sacrae imagines in alleged Early Christian worship places within his diocese. He developed a new type of sacred architecture by using artists with roman background such as the architect Nicolau de Frias and his architect and sculptor Pero Vaz Pereira. During these years, the use of the fresco painting technique, following the principles of Counter-Maniera and by the hands of painters such as Francisco de Campos (died in 1580), Marco António Nogueira (died around 1590), José de Escovar (died in 1622), Francisco João (died in 1595) and several others, was magnificient. The art projects undertaken by archbishop D. Teotónio in Évora were so outstanding that they competed with those ones from the ruling time of King John III and the humanist André de Resende. Ancient worships and new iconographic themes arise with D. Teotónio, such as the martyrs Saint Manços, Saint Jordan, Saint Brissos, Saint Comba, Saint Torpes and other ones considered to be martyr saints of Évora. Such themes are often depicted in the pictorial decorations of churches and monasteries. Furthermore, we know that D. Teotónio has made several orders in Madrid, Rome and Florence in order to enrich the Cathedral and also the great monastery he founded, the Scala Coeli of Cartuxa. For these reasons, it is a truly remarkable chapter of the portuguese art under Tridentine influence which deserves to be properly considered.
The territory that now constitutes the District of Évora is one of the richest, on a peninsular level, in terms of the profusion of 16th century frescoes. The amount of surviving specimens is, in many cases, combined with an artistic quality that proves that it was not just a minor expression of the so-called «great arts». Everything can be explained through an analysis of the historical conjuncture that arose as a result of the creation of the Archbishopric of Évora in 1540, and of the action of diligent prelates such as the Archbishop-Cardinal D. Henrique, D. João de Melo e Castro and D. Teotónio de Bragança, thanks to whom frescoes reached a highly splendorous moment, in which the artists were able to settle by being well-paid and granted a high social status.
This aspect, which is specifically associated with the heritage of the Alentejo, has long been acknowledged. The art historian Túlio Espanca was the first one to give it its deserved highlight [1-3]. The interest that the aforementioned prelates showed in the decorations of the places of worship – stimulated by the Counter-Reformist principles – was rather significant, and the development of mural paintings is largely explained by that political and religious dirigisme, but we should also keep in mind the role played by aristocratic patrons like the nobles Castros – the counts of Basto –, who were behind other important frescoes commissioned for their palace, located close to the Cathedral, in the heart of the city [4,5].
Under the rule of D. João de Melo (1564-1574) and, especially, of D. Teotónio de Bragança (1578-1602) [6,7], the interest in frescoes was strengthened by the study of the Paleo-Christian origins of the Alentejo and the promotion of would-be places of worship related to Saint Manços and Saint Jordão – alleged bishops of Évora – and other martyrs such as Saint Torpes, Saints Columba and Inonimata, Saint Vincent, Saints Sabina and Cristeta, etc. The practice of Christian Humanism gave rise to a sort of hagiological cartography within the vast territory managed by the Archbishopric. D. Teotónio’s attention, for example, was focused both on the ‘restoration’ of old structures and on the decoration of the city’s and diocese’s churches, where he relied on good architects to define their decorative strategies (Nicolau de Frias and Pero Vaz Pereira) and resorted to mural paintings and other ornamental expressions, like stucco, used from a perspective we would call total art, according to the Tridentine precept of ars senza tempo.
We know that D. Teotónio read the Tridentine authors, who were carefully represented in his library – authors like Charles Borromeo and Cesare Baronio, as well as Vitruvius and the classics –, and that he brought from Spain a relic belonging to Saint Manços, a martyr who is deemed to have been the first bishop of Évora, something that gave rise to a series of artistic manifestations with a major impact in the province. So, he promoted archaeological campaigns in hierophanical places within the Archdiocese, looking for primeval traces and structures, such as the places of martyrdom of Saint Torpes in Sines (these ones commissioned by Pope Sixtus V himself), Saints Comba and Inonimata, in the fields of Tourega, or Saint Romanus, in the Brinches area. Furthermore, we know he witnessed the collection – promoted by his nephew D. Teodósio – of pieces of Latin epigraphy (the famous inscriptions dedicated to the Lusitanian god Endovelicus), and defined the criteria for the restauro storico, just like his much-loved Italian reformers.
2. D. Teotónio de Bragança and the artistic and cultural environment
D. Teotónio de Bragança is an extremely important figure in the history of the Church precisely because his policy for the consolidation of Paleo-Christian architectural traces also had a well-defined artistic side – a rare case within the context of Portuguese history in terms of patronage programmes. So, he paved the way for construction and extension solutions for the existing architectural structures (like in the churches of São Manços, São Pedro da Gafanhoeira or Santa Maria de Machede). These are extremely interesting – and barely known – aspects of a personality that was truly up-to-date in terms of basic references and proposed solutions. It is true that he adopted an attitude that was common to other bishops from the Iberian Peninsula (such as the one from Burgos, with Saint Casilda, or the one from Aragon, with Saint Engratia and Saint Eurosia) who were looking to legimitize the old Paleo-Christian worships in their dioceses. It seems certain that he was seeking to fulfill a similar aim. According to the conclusions of a recent essay by Cécile-Vincent Cassy , the revalorization of matrical worships carried out by the Spanish bishops was driven by an undisguised effort to assert the weight of a «Hispanic-bred Christianity» before Rome, and the same purpose should be ascribed, in the Portuguese case, to D. Teotónio de Bragança, something that definitely has a significant historical importance.
One of the most cherished expressions of D. Teotónio’s twenty-four-year rule was, as we have mentioned above, frescoes. Since ancient times, mural paintings had always been one of the preferred decorative expressions in terms of art production in the Alentejo, but they came to play a leading role in the new type of interior ornamentation of the Teotonine period. The fresco had been a dominant practice during the Gothic period and the Early Renaissance, due to weather, tradition, durability and praxis-related reasons. In the 16th century, the ecclesiastical authorities of the Archdiocese usually recommended the use of frescoes, rather than carpentry retables with oil-painted panels, for that was the cheapest, longest-lasting and more efficient solution. So, this became the standard adopted both in parishes with less resources and in urban works with a higher degree of erudition and responsibility. A good example, among many others, is provided by a capitular reccomendation issued by the Cardinal-Infante D. Henrique, in 1575, in which he discouraged the parishioners from the church of São Pedro de Évoramonte from spending money in a new gilded woodwork retable with panels, saying that is was «enough» (sic), as an alternative, to paint a fresco depicting a fake retable on the chancel’s back wall .
Following the good tradition of the previous generations, showed in cases such as the frescoes of the cymatium of the church of the Misericórdia and of the convent of Santa Clara de Évora (both covered by opulent canvases and Baroque gilded woodwork claddings), as well as of the chancel of the old church of São Vicente, made by painters whose quality was similar to that of the Dutch master Francisco de Campos, frescoes were still playing a leading role in the markets of the city of Évora at the end of the 16th century. Francisco de Campos had been a highly skilled oil and fresco painter, who worked in the Cathedral, during the period of Archbishop D. João de Melo; in the halls and oratories of the Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa, by order of the Dukes of Bragança, D. Teotónio I and D. João I; and in the Oval Hall of the Palace of the Dukes of Basto, by order of D. Diogo de Castro; he died from the great plague of 1580, a period when he was precisely at the service of the Castros, because, since he was not afraid of the epidemic, he decided to keep on working. While admiring the series of canvases he painted for the Cathedral’s altars, by order of D. João de Melo – one of which is the Adoration of the Magi found at the Museum of Sacred Art of the Évora Cathedral –, we feel the power of the changes in terms of spatial conception and the audacity of the anti-Classical shapes, with the use of archaeological rovine like Maerten van Heemskerck and also Giulio Romano, all irreproachably drawn, as proven by the depictions of silver pieces, armoury, pottery or illuminated books [5,10-12].
3. D. Teotónio de Bragança Patronage and Painters in the 16th century
One of the most famous painters who lived in Évora – whose workshop was located close to Porta Nova – was Francisco João (1539-1595), a hard-working easel painter whose works still survive, and who was well-known for vigorously defending the liberality of his art in the city’s tribunals against the taxes that were imposed on the painters, but whose frescoes disappeared [13,14]. Being both an oil and fresco painter – a common characteristic among the good painters who worked in Évora during these years –, Francisco de Campos is the most prominent name of the first Mannerist generation that followed the one of Gregório Lopes, and the example of an international artist who dared to surprise us with new errands of the brush and strange dilated poses, in a complex exercise to overcome the Classical standards. The frescoes of the Oval Hall (1578) of the Palace of the Bastos show it clearly, and it also seems certain that this refined Bella Maniera with profane touches was not the one preferred by the new Archbishop. So, if it ever existed, the contact between the painter and D. Teotónio did not produce any significant results, nor could it, because Campos died from the plague in the Summer of 1580.
Another important painter related to the House of Bragança was Giraldo Fernandes de Prado (c. 1530-1592), who was also an illuminator and calligrapher; he worked in Évora during D. Teotónio’s period, painted the fresco of the Diana Hall in the Palace of the Counts of Basto, and left very important frescoes in the old Infirmary of the Cistercian monastery of São Bento de Cástris (two frescoes recently identified as a Calvary, integrated into a Mannerist altar made of carved mortar, and a Saint Sebastian and donor, both exquisitely painted) (Figure 1). Marco António Nogueira, a fresco painter, also lived in Évora; he was the son of the Mannerist painter António Nogueira, and he had successfully painted the fresco of the Alconchel Arch in June 1583, for the Entry of Philip I of Portugal in the city. That fresco was praised by the sources and cost the high price of 80,000 réis . Another painter who served the Braganças, the Englishman Thomas Lewis (whose name was translated into Portuguese as Tomás Luís), followed the steps of Campos and Giraldo a few years later, painting two halls in the Palace of the Counts of Basto (c. 1582-1585), in Évora, according to an exuberant programme filled with Ovidian quotes and laudatory references to the Castros and, after that the «new houses» of the Ducal Palace (1602-1603), in Vila Viçosa, with the saga of Perseus and Andromeda, the story of David and Goliath and other historical-mythological narratives of the wonderful and the unusual [11,16].
These are great examples of an aristocratic Mannerism, late but filled with whims, showing historical-mythological paintings similar to the ones made in Italy in the late 16th century. There were surely many manorial houses and recreational estates that were painted with frescoes during these years, of which there is no record, and nothing more remains other than documentary memories. But, in Évora, there are still many other quality frescoes, which betray the erudite formulation ascribed to them by agents, patrons and artists: we may simply observe the series of frescoes from the Jesuitical Sacristy of the Colégio do Espírito Santo, dated from 1599, to highlight a legacy that is especially careful in terms of plastic execution, symbolic content and iconological programme, which are an integral part of a single sequence [1,17-22] (Figure 2).
So, the aesthetic taste that prevailed in the great Alentejo under the rule of D. Teotónio de Bragança, at the turn of the 16th to the 17th century, used and further developed the old fresco tradition. It was naturally used in a context that was prone to this type of decorations when there was the need to decorate halls from clients with an above-average status, something that had become common over the previous generations. Thus made José de Escovar – a painter whose workshop was located on Rua do Raimundo and was responsible for many frescoes painted across the entire Archdiocese – when he travelled to Elvas in the early 17th century to cover with frescoes, not only the chancel of the church of Santa Clara, but also the hall of the small palace of the Bailiff of Malta, Dr. Rui de Brito . Through these and other interventions, Escovar extended the resources and possibilities of the art of fresco by knowing how to integrate it into a more audacious type of total ornamentation, within a well though-out bel composto spirit with Italianized roots. The decoration he made in 1605 for the Refectory of the Monastery of São Bento de Cástris, with a profane alegory to the Months and the Elements – commissioned by the Cistercian nuns according to a programme by the monastery’s proxy, Frei Pedro da Cruz – is rather symptomatic of that spirit and language . We should mention other examples of that type of ars senza tempo applied to the Archdiocese, which resort to the use of a combination of frescoes, stucchi, sgrafitti and fake tiles, as in the case of the church of São Brissos; it is a true picture gallery of the new hagiology of Évora, painted by Escovar himself together with other painters, which betrays that ‘total language’, recalling (mutatis mutandi) a few Roman chapels painted with frescoes during the period of Sixtus V.
That Teotonine taste, which is surely the Archbishop’s responsibility and that, for being even more Romanized, fits within a «reformed» (or «counter-Mannerist») typology that is more in line with a neo-ancient spirit, extrapolates the role played by the various artistic expressions, according to the requirements of the Tridentine reformation in force at the time, assigning them a role of scenographic totality, i.e., a role of «total work of art» understandable by the communities.
Such contribution that, in itself, is something new in Évora’s artistic panorama, is already present, for example, in the programme devised by D. Teotónio for the frescoes of the roof of the Gothic chapel of São Lourenço, in the Cathedral’s transept, which was painted by José de Escovar, in 1597, according to the Archbishop’s neo-Constantinian taste (Figure 3). This is a good example of that Teotonine taste: a stucco and fresco composition, with frames made of carved mortar, which involved quadri riportati painted in fresco that unravel an apologetic narrative of the saint’s life and martyrdom with a didascalic tone. That was precisely the taste that was recommended by and made in Rome during the late 16th century for the Papal decorations painted in fresco by artists like Nebbia, Giovanni Guerra, Niccoló Pomarancio or Giovan Battista Ricci da Novara! . It is interesting to know that the catedral chapel of São Lourenço had just received a privilege bull issued by Pope Clement VIII, something that led the Archbishop to decorate it according to the senza tempo taste of the city of Rome, which was seen as the umbilicus mundi, the capital of Christianity and of the World.
Left to right:
Figure 1. Paintings of Geraldo Fernandes de Prado at the old Infirmary of the Cistercian monastery of São Bento de Cástris (a Calvary and a Saint Sebastian and donor). Photo by Manuel Ribeiro, 2014.
Figure 2. Panoramic view of the painted vault from the Jesuitical Sacristy of the Colégio do Espírito Santo, dated from 1599. Photo by Manuel Ribeiro, 2015.
Figure 3. Panoramic vew of the chapel vault of São Lourenço, in the Cathedral’s transept, painted by José de Escovar, in 1597. Photo by Manuel Ribeiro, 2015.
Like in other cases of Teotonine decorations that we shall mention in further detail, such as the ornamental project for the churches of Nossa Senhora da Graça de Divor and Santa Maria de Machede, developed by other painters (one of them, surely, Custódio da Costa), the decorative programme of the Chapel of São Lourenço was probably supervised by its architect and sculptor, Pero Vaz Pereira, who had been in Rome, and to whom we can ascribe the design and the «model» for the mortar ornamentation and for the general nature of the quadri riportati. We know that it was precisely Pero Vaz Pereira who was responsible for defining the nature and the programme for the interior decoration of Santa Maria de Machede (1604), a task he had taken up over the previous decade and for which his double quality of architect and sculptor at the service of the Archdiocese (and, after that, at the service of the House of Bragança) turned him into the most skilled artist of this time.
The increase in the use of this type of artistic language with neo-Constantinian roots is one of the aspects of innovation and interest of the ideological and aesthetic renovation undertaken during D. Teotónio’s period across his entire Archdiocese. And it was also for that reason that these decades of transition between the 16th and the 17th century were times with plenty of work for the fresco painters who worked in Évora, more than in any other Portuguese city: painters like Marco António Nogueira, José de Escovar, Manuel de Araújo, João de Moura, Francisco António, Manuel Carvalho, Fernão Luís, Custódio da Costa or Luís de Escovar, among others, found numerous job offers in the province’s convents, brotherhoods, churches and oratories. It was certainly a time with a great number of commissions, although we should not fail to mention the labour disputes and rivalries that ooze from the documents in which a few facts prove this artistic expression’s importance: when, in 1589, José de Escovar was accused of murdering his first wife Júlia da Rocha, arrested at Limoeiro and condemned to exile in Angola, his sentence was commuted because his activity was important for the Archbishopric . Despite the crime he had allegedly committed, the extensive series of frescoes he painted over the three following decades proves, peremptorily, that Évora’s society forgave him. For the Archbishopric it was more important to keep him as a decorative fresco painter, which was a quick, cheap and efficient activity.
In short, we realize that D. Teotónio de Bragança substantially enrichened the collections of the cathedrals and other archiepiscopal churches, promoted new iconographic themes, valued the social status of the artists who worked for him and defined a constructive typology that was different from the one that had characterized Évora’s preceding architecture. All this effort to modernize the artistic production, qualifying it with historical bases and according to the precepts of the ars senza tempo, deserves to be known and analyzed as a whole. In brief, mutatis mutandis, he was a patron of culture, humanities and art whose importance was similar to that of his contemporaries D. Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas (1546-1618), the Archbishop of Toledo, or D. Juan de Ribera (1532-1611), the Archbishop of Valencia and Seville – illustrious names in terms of artistic patronage within the peninsular context of the so-called «long time» of the Renaissance , or also D. Frei Aleixo de Meneses (1559-1617), who was the Archbishop of Goa between 1595 and 1612, a period of great constructive and pastoral prestige of the Portuguese State of India.
4. Final considerations
Just like these and other patron-bishops, and despite the fact that he was no longer a Renaissance man according to the historical and temporal definition that usually corresponds to that concept, D. Teotónio had a strong intervention in the architecture, the decorative arts, the collections and the experienced culture of his time, activating simultaneous phenomena of persistence, revitalization and rupture, launching new perspectives on the practice of religion, the natural world, the political exercise, the role of trade, public health, the strategies of writing and representing the Other, and promoting the archaeological discovery of origins and identities. Therefore, he was one of the sponsoring results of the renewing ideals of the Council of Trent and of the new aesthetic taste implemented during the late stage of the Italian Mannerism, something that explains and «places» his action within the influence of the canons of the Roman Contra-Maniera.
This new type of programme guidelines, which he followed during his rule, based on a solid knowledge of Sixtus V’s Rome and of the ars senza tempo, turned the late 16th century Évora into an exceptional case of success in terms of construction and heritage renovation, and also explained the abundant use of frescoes in his religious and civil decorations. It is a fact that he was able to rely on a series of artists that lived up to the goals he had set up, but the truth is that he provided them with a supportive work atmosphere, managing also to attract foreign artists to carry out the planned works (D. Teotónio had the Dutch painter Duarte Frizão at his service and, over those years, Évora was visited by foreign painters without any known works, such as Isbrandt of Renoy and Hieronymus de Vich). In this period there are plenty of cases of decorations that combine frescoes, stucchi, gilded woodworks and tiles, like the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça do Divor: it is a taste for the harmony of totality that takes on an exponential nature. It is not surprising that, over a few more decades, that sort of ars senza tempo mellowed by the union of different artistic expressions gained a widespread acceptance, both in the richest markets and in those with fewer resources. It is a taste that paves the way for faux expressions, from the imitation of checkered tiles (in São Brissos), to the use of mortars to fake noble materials (Santa Maria de Machede), or the use of golden stucco instead of gilded woodworks (Graça do Divor).
So, it was a new type of ornamentational choice that kept this architect busy as an employee at the service of a diligent prelate. That sort of reinterpretation of the Sistine principles in the Alentejo stands out as a peak in the history of the communion between artistic genres, turning the decorative arts in D. Teotónio de Bragança’s time into such an original chapter that definitely needs to be studied. This is a subject that requires an in-depth research, something that has been regarded as a priority by this project. There are plenty of materials, archives and artistic remains, and the purpose is precisely to provide knowledge about these pictorial legacies.
Despite the outbreaks of plague and the years of scarcity caused by poor harvests, at the end of the 16th century Évora confirmed its status as the Kingdom’s second most important city, combining the weight of its Roman and Medieval antiquity with new and up-to-date archiepiscopal enterprises. Thanks to D. Teotónio de Bragança, the old Ebora Colonia Romana had privileged circumstances to take up the essencial aspects of historical prestige, civic assistance, social organization, Paleo-Christian memory and growing dynamics associated with the Tridentine devices.
The authors wish to acknowledge the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia for financial support through Project PRIM’ART PTDC/CPC-EAT/4769/2012, funded by financed by national funds through the FCT/MEC and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the COMPETE - Competitiveness Factors Operational Program (CFOP).
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Art Historian, Professor
Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon