The furniture collection is composed by a little more than two hundred pieces, most of them proceeding from the old Episcopal Palace and from the Mitre of Lamego. There are also pieces proceeding from legacies, donations and acquisitions that have contributed to its increasing value. Including specimens from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, this lot is strongly marked by the spoil of the Palace, that contains specimens dating since the 17th century until the third quarter of the 18th century. The inclusion of pieces proceeding from important legacies has permitted its chronological enlargement and the introduction of new typologies, offering a better understanding of the evolution of the Portuguese furniture and of its specific qualities.
The ecclesiastic character of the heritage is reflected, as it couldn’t help to be, on the collection. So, we consequently find a large number of seating furniture, most of it in walnut wood, forming a very large number of sets, still complete, or almost complete, today: taborets, Two STOOLS - usually caned church stools or atrium stools - and sets of chairs, most of them armchairs, math their respective settees.
This abundance of seating furniture, as well as a diminute number of other pieces of furniture scattered through the ceremonial halls and other rooms, was a typical feature of the Portuguese seigniorial mansions, which the prelates, residencies would don’t escape from. In fact, even in the 18th century, the opulence of the interiors was much more based on the using of expensive and sumptuous tissues, to clothe buffets, credences, tables, stools, taborets and chairs, than on furniture. To range bed linen, paraments and every other textile, people used Two CHESTS and “baús”(old-fashioned round-topped trunks), coated with leather and adorned with ornamental studding with golden nails composing decorative patterns, of which the Palace possessed several specimens, some of them present now in the Museum lot.
In the 18th century, furniture became diversified: we begin to find in the Palace, chests of Two DRAWERS , slanttop writing desks, card tables, huge tables from the ancient “bookshop”, chairs and settees, which are part of the present collection.
One of the peculiarities about the religious furniture, are the existent documents related to its ordering, acquisition, restoring or mere description, what makes possible its dating, sometimes with great accuracy. It’s the case of a holy-wood buffet, made by a Lamego-born craftsman and bought in 1734, for 60.000 “réis” as well as wallnut stools, acquired by the Mitre of Lamego on the 27th of May of 1736.
The second half of the 17th century is, according to some specialists, the period of greater affirmation and originality of Portuguese furniture. The influence of baroque style becomes gradually prevailing and the austerity in furniture begins fading away, absorbed by the light effects and movement games resulting from the turnery work, with its more and more stressed strangulation’s, the use of plain areas contrasting with carved ones and the light-dark contrast of the golden metal applied over the shining and dark holy wood surface. Some pieces, like the “sola chair” have become famous abroad.
Typical of this period are the beds with columns and heads decorated with turnery work and carved elements, betraying sometimes clear oriental influences and of which the Museum keeps some specimens.
Having already made their appearance on the heads of the beds, in the first half of the century, the golden cut-out or cast metal plates, give a colourful note to buffets, counters and presses, such as in a most beautiful Two HOLY-WOOD PRESS, with two bodies separated by a range of drawers, which possibly dates from between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. Its ironwork fittings proceed directly from the Entre-Douro-e-Minho tradition, being similar to the ironwork of grating and “arcazes”(big chests with some drawers) made by the Braga-born joiner Agostinho Marques (active in Braga from 1692 to 1717).
Wood-carving arrive to the Two CHAIRS , which in their evolution have given up the straight verticality of their backs and the simplicity of their crosspieces, as it used to be in the first half of the 17th century, changing to turnery backs and wide carved front crosspieces shaped like shells or floral ornaments, topped by volutes, or interlaced “SS”, typical of the chair of the second half of the 17th century, and that became known as “cadeira de sola” (sole chair). Sometimes, as happens with some specimens hi the Museum’s spoil, its legs and arms-supports present already an incipient curved line, typical of the transition from the 17th century to the following century and that would result in the bowed legs, typical of the reign of D. João V. We may distinguish several walnut benches with leather coated seat and articulated back, specimens of good technical execution, combining turnery work with carving work following the Entre-Douro-e-Minho craftsmen’s tradition, who in the end of the 17th century and all along the 18th century made retables, pulpits, gratings, “cadeirais” (church range of chairs), chests, sacristy presses and credences, to many churches and Monasteries in the north of the country.
In the 18th century, furniture suffered a diversification and a specialisation, following the evolution of the taste and of the idea of comfort. To buffets and writing tables, chairs and stools, cupboards and counters, chests and round-topped trunks, were added chests of drawers, chests-writing-desks, side-boards, card-tables, three-legged tables, "tables to take to bed" and settees, to answer to the new demands.
In that century, the English and French influences are determinant, specially on the seating furniture. Though during the reign of D. José, the court has closely followed the French fashion concerning the forms and splendour of the golden furniture, the English influence was nevertheless, prevailing. The Portuguese joiners assimilated these two influences, combining them with their renowned skill, giving some unique traits to our chairs and settees, rather evident in many specimens of the collection.
In the furniture nucleus from the 18th century, the most represented in the collection, the holy-wood, a brasilian wood known in the north of the country as indian rose-wood, rivals width the walnut wood, one of the most used local woods in the North, which began to give way to the holy-wood in the third quarter of this century, because this one was more easily adapted to the “rocaille” carving, typical of this period. Later, in the last quarter of the century, during the reign of D. Maria I, both of them were supplanted by other woods with brighter tonalities, such as the satin-wood, the rosewood and the bramble, used in inlaid, imbedded and foiled works, that have appeared to substitute, respectively, the use of the solid wood, the exuberant and hearty wood-carving of the reign of D. João V and the delicate wood-carving, so close to the gold-smith’s work , of the reign of D. José. The typical curve lines of the furniture during these reigns, gave way to the straight lines imposed by a new style: the neo-classic.
José António Proença