The victories of Nuno Álvares Pereira against the Spanish, the capture of Arzila and Tangier by Dom Afonso V, the discovery of the sea route to India in the reign of Dom Manuel, the triumphs of Dom João de Castro in India, the Portuguese participation in the capture of Tunis, the spread of the Portuguese Empire to the four corners of the world in the reign of Dom João III, all these events gave rise to the commissioning of tapestries in Flanders, which served both to record and glorify them.
The arrival of the Portuguese in India gave rise to two distinct series. The series celebrating the discovery of the sea route to India, which was commissioned by the king Dom Manuel I, is well-known. There is no doubt that this particular series of tapestries was commissioned and that, at least in part, the order was complied with.
The document resulting from this latter commission illustrates the desire to record such important successes in an artistic form, calling for great chronological and descriptive precision, but yet not forgetting the local particularities in regard to customs, fauna and flora. The other series of tapestries, directly related with the discovery of India, is the one known as “In the manner of Portugal and India”, and it is the specific examples of this series at the Museu do Caramulo that are the subject-matter of this study.
There is no known documentary evidence linking this series directly with a Portuguese royal commission. Nor are there to be found in these tapestries any explicit details in the form of figures that in themselves make it possible for us to claim outright that they formed part of a Portuguese commission. However, their significance as a testimony to the cultural and psychological impact caused by the first arrival of the Portuguese in India is of major importance. These works basically express the feeling of that first moment when the look of the figures is still simply one of delighted amazement, and they reflect the enormous effort that was made to apprehend and integrate the acquaintance being forged with these new realities into the structures of knowledge that prevailed at that time.
The artistic expression of the excitement generated by that first moment, in the way that it is depicted in these works, offers a privileged and most interesting insight into the process of reorganisation of both the mind and senses that was dictated by the expansion of the known world.
The clearly inherent intention to produce a special form of propaganda found a suitable support in tapestry, these two factors combining to produce a rich vein of expressiveness that we must still admire today.