The sculpture lot is a good example for representing and characterising Portuguese Sculpture. It integrates two distinct groups - the first one, formed by sundry imagery for architectural decoration, dates from the 17th and the 18th centuries, and constitutes a remarkable display in its quantity and plastic value, and a second one, containing a lesser number of pieces, that permits to travel a visual time, from the roman period to the first quarter of our century. Thus, the collection embraces a millennial chronological boundary that is representative of the imagery production of our country, as much what concerns the sundry sculpture of both religious and profane character, as those images that are part of retable assemblages.
Bestowing a clear emphasis on iconography attributes, the only identifying elements of the represented image, Portuguese sculpture has been tied, in some way, to stylistic and formal values which have produced recurrent images with obvious attributes, easily, if not immediately, identified by the faithful. In their majority, pieces of small size, to the scale of our architecture, these images would easily be lodged in the niches of any church, chapel or private oratory. This option that marked the orders and consequent production of medieval imagery, having continued in some way along the following centuries, left the sculptors a narrow essaying margin.
Faithful products of regional workshops and of the religious institutions, orders, the images kept in the museum of Lamego, in spite of displaying the maryrdom symbols and preserving the matrix of the Portuguese sculpture, show an accurate plastic treatment of the anatomical proportions and the drapery volumes. Respectful to the canons when rendering the image of the devotional saints, the artists didn’t neglect the treatment of the bodies, guessed under the richly stuffed drapery, and sculptured images with a plastic liveliness that surpasses any cultural object with religious effectiveness.
As a prior testimony of the foundation of Portugal we may distinguish a Two WOMAN’S HEAD. This fragment, represented in a frontal position, with its hair parted in an elegant hairdo, exposes a face with an individual plastic treatment, with a special emphasis on its high forehead, straight nose and delicate Ups, values that embody in a superb way the typical representative canons of the roman sculpture from the first century. This piece from unknown provenance, may be included on account of its size, in the typology of the pedestal-statues, betraying too, by its plastic treatment, its integration in an architectural structure, much probably inside a niche, since it appears sculptured at 3/4 with its back slightly excavated.
The medieval nucleus formed by five images, spreads through the centuries of two hundred and three hundred, outlining in an exemplar way, the evolution of the plastic values in the Christian imagery of that period.
From the 13th century and sculptured on wood, we preserve three rare images proceeding from the Church of S. Pedro de Balsemão. One Virgin with Child that, escaping from the canon on Enthroned ,Tirgins of Byzantine heritage, was sculptured tanning up. Keeping a crowned head, this piece integrates, in spite of the innovation, the iconography group of the hodegetria that marked the cult of the protecting Queen of all the Christian world. The Pope St. Peter and St. Paul complete the 13th century’s sculpture lot. A sited, frontal and bearded Two ST. PAUL, closes with excellency she plastic values of that century its static, frontal and hieratic representation is compensated by the volumes of drapery obtained by overlapping geometric lines which, although schematic, impress a slender individuality to an hermetic volumetry.
The 14th century offers us two images in limestone that evoke one of the most spread cults in the century of three hundred: Two THE VIRGIN OF EXPECTATION, whom the popular devotion gives the name of Our Lady of 0, or, Pregnant Virgin. A typical form of the Marian cult, The Virgin of Expectation celebrates Mary’s maternity with a certain approach to the human kind, which comes from the influence exercised by the mendicant orders, in process of diffusion through the peninsula at the time. Such as it had happened in the previous century, the imagery of the 14th, century is still dominated by the plastic treatment of the drapery, structured in vertical pleats with angular and geometric profile. However, the Virgin proceeding from St. John of Tarmac and sculptured standing up, in a frontal position and with the head covered with a veil, rests its right hand over its dilated womb, with a naturalist gesture that definitely forsakes the hieratic posture of the precedent century.
The nucleus of Portuguese sculpture from the 17th and the 18th centuries englobes the greatest number of images in the collection of the Museum of Lamego, adding up to sixty two pieces. Proceeding in its majority from the extinct Monastery of Chagas, a few pieces proceed from the Misericórdia or the Episcopal Palace of this same city.
Yielding to the conditionalisms of the religious commission orders, the sculpture from the 17th and the 18th centuries had often to take refuge in the flying plastic treatment of the vestments or in the theatricality of gestures and faces. Keeping a consistent stylistic line, most of the images excel in the serenity of their attitude. Sculptured in wood and upholstered with gold, they are sumptuously clad. The Two ST. JOSEPH from the second half of the 17th century, a life-size sculpture, accomplishes a good balance between the dynamism of its drapery and the serenity of its attitude. The Two ST. LUZIA, dating from the first half of the 18th century, though displaying openly the iconography attributes and luxuriously clothed according to the epoch, expresses a martyr’s emotions in a very sober way.
At the end of the 16th century, the images designed to altars, chapels and retables, were replaced by the mannerist painting that was beginning to fill the retable structures and they reappear again in the midst of the 17th century and along an the 18th century, in a lively architectural game. From this same epoch date the eight altars, retables and chapels proceeding from Monastery of Chagas.
Covered with woodcarving and most of them polychromatic, these architectural structures are enriched with images and decorated with reliefs on the shafts of the columns and on the friezes, reaching a dramatic movement where the golden sculpture wins.
A faithful example of the very close relationship between the imagery and the sculpture for architectural decoration is the Two ST. JOHN EVANGELIST’S CHAPEL, proceeding from the Monastery of Chagas and executed in 1774. The retabular structure of the altar, conceived in two registers, shelters in its niches sundry images placed on panels in relief and separated by helicoidal columns decorated with ornamental foliage along curved lines. The lateral walls of the chapel are structured in three registers. On the inferior one there are volutes that define perspectively the background plans and on the two upper registers, some sundry sculptures return to the niches in a lively dialogue with the architectural elements.
From the 19th century, the Museum of Lamego keeps two pieces of sculpture: a chestnut wood sculptural polychromatic set, proceeding from the Seminary and representing the Holy mothers and a Two CRUCIFIED CHRIST, of classic inspiration, whose remarkable serenity shows a clear option for other values, different from the dramatic and sometimes stereotyped expressions of baroque sculpture. Sculptured in wood, the Son of God appears already moribund, with its head bending and its arms slanting. Some details, such as the tissue strips instead of the traditional nails that pierce trough the feet and the hands, underscore in this piece the primacy of dignity.
To the first quarter of the 20th century belong the clays and plaster busts which either representing eminent figures, or studying religious or profane themes, appear as significant examples of the comparative sculpture that by the end of eight hundred, marked the practical academism of Portuguese sculpture.
An interesting plastic proposal is the Two BUST OF JOÃO AMARAL, by Júlio da Rocha Diniz, as a rendered homage to the first director of the Museum of Lamego.
Sandra Vaz Costa