The various contingencies and circumstances under which the collection was put together in the extraordinary space of time of only four years (1953-1957), with what is best described as an almost fatalistic urgency, determined the specific features of the choice. In Portugal, at that time, there still persisted the hierarchical separation of the arts into one or other of two categories, major or minor. Amongst the first group, painting occupied the leading position. And within the category of old painting, there were some periods that were preferred to others.
Because of a certainmentality and an understanding of the history of art that was ideologically imbued with the programme of the New State, those periods that were chronologically close to the “great moments of the nation’s history” were given major prominence. Thus, paradoxically, as a result of a simple coincidence determined either by the state of knowledge of that time or by carefully pre-established criteria of choice, the collection of the Museu do Caramulo contains fairly coherent groups of paintings that are closely interrelated. Most immediately, the so-called “primitives” – the paintings that coincided with the time of the great Portuguese discoveries, specially highlighted in the exhibition that established this classificatory term – were given pride of place in the Caramulo collection.
By another stroke of chance, there exists in this collection a group of paintings that were all conceivably produced around the year 1525. Amongst this number is a St. Jerome painted by Frei Carlos, a St. John the Baptist by Vasco Fernandes (the famous Grão Vasco), and pictures by two other painters who worked in Bruges and Antwerp, two northern European cities with which the Portuguese maintained close relations during the period of the Discoveries, because of the trading posts that they had established there. One of these artists is Quentin Metsys, of whose work the Museu do Caramulo has an extremely beautiful example in the form of a portrait of St. Bernardino of Siena. And, finally, with a later date, but also capable of being included in the group of the so-called “Portuguese primitives,” there is the Deposition of Christ in the Tomb, classified in 1957 as being the work of Garcia Fernandes, although now, in this catalogue, it is finally concluded that it is the work of Fernão Garcia.
Escaping this categorisation are three painted panels whose origin would seem to be close to that of the paintings produced by the Spanish workshops. Two of them form a pair, because of their size and similar shape – semicircular at the top – and their pictorial identity. TheInvestiture of St. Ildephonsus and the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian are close to the style of Juán de Borgoña, but at the level of architectural ornaments they already display references to a more “old-fashioned” style. A third panel, which is now mutilated and reduced in relation to its original dimensions and whose painting work is a depiction of St. Ursula, has been classified as Castilian, although in its specific features it denotes a clear Flemish influence.
There are also paintings that, because of the knowledge we now have today, lie outside the chronological parameters of the period of the “primitives” – 1450-1550 – but which, at the time when the Caramulo collection was put together, were still considered capable of being included in this period. All the works painted on wooden panels, showing good technical quality in their execution and with an “old flavour,” were classified as such. The results of the research work of Martin Soria or Adriano de Gusmão were still to published, and these authors were subsequently to separate the pictures produced in the second half of the 16th century from the paintings of the “Portuguese primitives.” Even more distant in time were the scientific advances made by researchers such as Vítor Serrão and Joaquim Caetano, who were able to rigorously establish names for certain legendary painters, previously only recorded by memorialists. Perhaps because of this lack of knowledge, paintings such as the Baptism of Christ by Diogo de Contreiras or the “moralesque” Virgin and Child (cat. 250) were included in this collection. Recently added to the collection of the Museu do Caramulo is a painting depicting the Virgin and Child with St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph. This late 16th-century painting, with its Italianate flavour, is a copy of an engraving by Marco Antonio Raimondi, based on the original by Raphael.
Another of the periods considered as “major” by the art historiography of the New State was that of the Restoration. However, the group of paintings from that time that is included in the Caramulo collection is rather a poor one. There are none of the powerful and phantasmagorical full-length portraits that the great families of the Portuguese Restoration commissioned to mark the re-establishment of their privileges. Instead of this, there is just a half-length portrait of a sullen-looking Magistrate (cat. 254) proudly displaying the Cross of the Order of Christ, although this was painted by an English artist who signed it with his name, Henry Pickering, in 1731. A St. John the Baptist, of pubescent age – wrapped in a bright red cloak that contrasts with the sombre green of the landscape in which the saint sits gathering water from a fountain in a scallop shell – has light effects that were greatly cherished by baroque painting, one of whose greatest exponents in Portugal was Avelar Rebelo, the court painter of Dom João IV.
An international baroque taste is displayed by two other paintings in the Fundação Abel de Lacerda collection: the hierarchical Portrait of Marie de Médicis; and the picture that is one of the best old paintings in the collection, signed by Jacob Jordaens and dated 1638, depicting Vertumnus and Pomona. Faced with the baroque grandeur of this canvas, one almost overlooks the strange painting of a Holy Face, painted on leather and thus attributed to the Cordoba workshops.
The panorama of the favourite periods of mid-20th century art criticism would not be complete if we did not include the art produced under the reign of the “glorious and magnanimous king.” In view of the shortage of easel paintings that could be included in the collection, attention was directed towards drawings. Two works by Francisco Vieira Lusitano – a Portuguese painter from the reign of Dom João V who rivalled the best Roman painters of his time – are part of the Caramulo collection. One of these drawings, as a finished work, was made in sanguine and bears the artist’s signature in the place where the cross of the Order of St. James is displayed, depicting The Holy Trinity with a complicated allegory relating to the religious orders. It was thanks to a prosaic interpretation of this allegory that the specialists from the mid-20th century designated the drawing through the proverb “he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.” The other drawing by Vieira Lusitano is a study for Christ Enraged with the World.
In order to fill in the gap in the collection with regard to 18th-century art, attention was turned towards the French cultural horizon that had long imposed its rules at the level of national taste. Forming part of this general taste for things foreign, dictated by the worldly French pomp, is an ostentatious Portrait of Louis XIV. Already in the field of rococo aesthetics are the Portrait of Madame de Pompadour and the painting by Luis Paret y Alcázar, depicting Esther fainting before Ahasuerus, which, despite being Spanish in origin, fits perfectly into the category of the purest courtly taste for rocaille works in the French style. However strange it may seem, in Paret’s painting, the specialists consider his passage through Lisbon to have been crucial for apprehending the French taste. It is thought that his familiarity with the painting of Pillement, who spent some time here, changed everything in his own painting. The collection of the Museu do Caramulo contains a recently-donated Landscape by this latter artist.
Domenico Pellegrini also spent some time here between 1803 and 1810, leaving amongst us countless portraits of the most illustrious Portuguese families. In his industrious career, he made several academic studies, of which the Nude of the Caramulo collection is an example. Pellegrini left Portugal under a cloud of suspicion as far as the Crown was concerned. This attitude was certainly due to the fact that the painter was a supporter of liberal ideas.
The romantic positions adopted in relation to the convulsions of the civil war that opposed Miguelists to Liberals, together with the new ideas arriving from beyond the Pyrenees, were another feature that greatly excited mid 20th-century scholars. The controversial figure of Domingos António Sequeira was seen as the most perfect image of this period. His artistic expressiveness, with hints of pre-Romanticism and a markedly individualistic attitude, won him supporters even amongst the more nationalistic factions. This artist’s work had inevitably to be represented in the museum’s collection. There are three of Sequeira’s works at the Museu do Caramulo: two drawings and a painting. This latter work is undoubtedly the most important. It is an Invocation painted by the artist at a dramatic moment in his life, in which his self-representation is part of a context for the externalisation of the creator’s deepest traumas. One of the drawings is a modello, or a rough sketch, in which Sequeira puts down on paper the first impressions of what would later become the Descent from the Cross of the famous series of paintings that he produced for the Palmela family. The other is the Portrait of Manuel de Serpa Machado. This is a finished drawing that we can include in the gallery of portraits of the members of the Constituent Assembly.
The wish to have a group marked by the presence of romantic figures and especially their literary affirmation easily led to the identification of a portrait of a young man as being that of Lord Byron. However, the male figure that is now identified as Francisco António da Silva Mendes da Fonseca is in fact the most eloquent image of the new generation of Portuguese romanticism.
Being drawn from another panorama and originating from outside the national context is a Portrait of a Lady, signed and dated in the bottom left-hand corner by the Spanish artist Vicente Lopez Portaña in 1834. Also inevitably lying outside this classification, because of the conservativeness of its models and the pictorial proposition that it presents, is the Descent from the Cross by Maurício José do Carmo Sendim.
One must, however, include the Study for “History” (cat. 278) by Teixeira Lopes in another universe altogether, even though, because of the drawing’s somewhat academic characteristics, it might be said to mark the transition between ancient art and contemporaneity.