The most important aesthetic references are therefore examples of European sculpture from the 12th to the 20th century. The group of 20th-century pieces also has a significant part to play in the general analysis of the museum’s collection of contemporary art.
In this universe, the successive donations that have come to characterise the history of the Fundação Abel de Lacerda-Museu do Caramulo have created a corpus of sculptures in bronze – in the case of various archaeological pieces and some contemporary works – stone (limestone and alabaster), wood, clay and plaster.
The tour of the exhibition proposed by the Museu do Caramulo is a chronological one. It should be noted that all the pieces in the sculpture collection are exhibited to the public and that there are no works kept “in reserve”. Any doubts existing as to the classification of pieces are directly presented. In keeping with this principle, a curious group of statues is exhibited in the cloister. These are 20th-century limestone sculptures, imitating the models most commonly found in Portugal – and above all in Coimbra – during the 15th century. The “recovery” of this style expresses the particular fondness amongst those donating pieces to the Museu do Caramulo for the qualities of Portuguese 15th-century Gothic sculpture.
Amongst the museum’s mediaeval European sculptures, the first one to welcome us is the Romanesque fragment of an unidentified figure (cat. 91), although, because of their quantity and overall coherence, particular attention should also be given to the group of 14th-century polychromed wooden devotional images, amongst which the most notable are the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist remaining from a Calvary (cat. 92 and cat. 93) and Christ on the Cross (cat. 94). These are joined by two enthroned Virgins and Child that follow the typical model found in Iberian sculpture since the 13th century (cat. 69 and cat. 68). In the transition from the 15th to the 16th century, visitors should take special note of the Christ on the Cross (cat. 70), also sculpted in polychromed wood, which gives us an excellent insight into the formal and iconographic traditions of the Portuguese production of Christs on the Cross when compared with the earlier example (cat. 94) of the representation of this theme, which still belongs to the first Portuguese Gothic period and is associated, in museum terms, with the images of the Calvary. The Virgin of Piety (cat. 95) brings an end to the cycle of polychromed wood carvings from the Middle Ages, and also introduces us to a common theme in 15th-century Portugal, resulting from the spread of a continuing line of spirituality that was typical of Northern Europe and was to be modelled here in great abundance in the form of polychromed limestone images. This Virgin of Piety is therefore an outstanding piece, not only because of its plastic excellence, but also because of the material memory that it provides of the contemporary work produced in wood, which was naturally more perishable.