An important reference for all who are seriously interested in the history of sculpture, this collection incorporates works from the 11th to the 18th century.
The Portuguese section is the most extensive and most impressive part of the collection. Although the majority of the pieces are in stone, terracotta and wood are also well represented. The collection spans several centuries and covers various artistic styles, demonstrating a sculptural tradition which made this region one of the greatest centres of production in the country. The main reason for this tradition was the location, in the outskirts of Coimbra, of the white limestone quarries of Ançã, Outil, Portunhos and Pena.



11th – 13th Century

The finest examples of Portuguese Romanesque sculpture are mainly to be found in the ornamentation of religious architecture both on the interior and exterior of churches and convents as well as in their cloisters. The collection of the sculpture of Coimbra covers the largest number of specimens of this typology with some of its finest works on display – pieces rich in iconography and refined in their conception and execution.
Apart from the remains of the cloister of S. João de Almedina , the collection integrates capitals, though out of their original contexts, the majority being from the Collegiates of S. João and S. Pedro and some from S. Cristóvão , S. Tiago , Lorvão and other churches in the city and its surroundings.
Furthermore, the collection illustrates the various influential tendencies brought by successive invaders of the Iberian Peninsula following the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. The Museum contains fragments of decorated Hispano-Visigothic columns, pilasters and reliefs as well as an Arab capital from the Caliph period (fig. 1) , of classical inspiration and treppaned after the Byzantine manner.
The decorative themes, especially those of the capitals, sometimes inspired by Muslim or Byzantine motifs, are one of the elements in the classification of the Romanesque groups.
Prominent examples of this style display a series of animals symbolizing the Vices and the Virtues associated with specific personages and episodes and dogmas consecrated in Biblical texts. They are sculpted symbols present in popular everyday life. The capitals from S. Pedro Church (fig. 2) and (fig. 3 ) also belong to this cycle. The church itself was originally located in the upper part of the city, but was reformed in the modern era and destroyed in the 20th century to make way for the university campus.
Romanesque statuary is rare in Portugal. The Museum owns only two such pieces in stone and produced in the 12th century: the granite Angel and the Apostle (St. John the Evangelist). The first (fig. 5) is from the Cathedral in Oporto, the second is from Coimbra and was found very fragmentated during excavations on the site of the early Church of S. João de Almedina.
By producing mainly tombs and freestanding images sculpture freed itself from architecture. Meanwhile it maintained a religious nature, due either to the subject matter or to the fact that it was made for holy spaces, evolving in two areas: funerary sculpture ( figs. 6 9 ) and altar and retable imagery.
The history of tomb sculpture began in the 13th century with the emergence of the custom of burial inside the church. Thus, a number of prelates and knights have been represented in tomb effigies, or less frequently by a symbolic sculpture, their sepulchres always being in recesses.

14th – 15th Century

The sculpture of Coimbra is divided into two periods: that of the maturity of the early gothic sculpture of native origin dominated by the ornamented capitals of Celas ( fig. 10 ); the remainder of the century is marked by the arrival of the Aragonese sculptor Master Pero, author of the tomb of the Rainha Santa.
The presence of foreign masters meant that kings, prelates and nobles called upon the finest artists of the time to execute sculpted tombs – proof of the influences to which Portuguese art was subjected at that time. The initial hieratic forms (posture and dress) found in the tombs rapidly evolved, provoking a new cycle in the gothic sculpture of Coimbra characterized principally by another art form – carved imagery.
Portuguese medieval religious sculpture reached its peak in the 14th century. Gothic sculpture turned in the direction of naturalism, freeing its figures from their geometric lines and humanizing them by modifying their gestures and attitudes ( fig. 12 ). This new concept became generalized provoking intense production of images for worship. In addition to the Christian cult and the cult of the Virgin, some saints became targets of popular fervour, particularly the Apostolic Saints who were amply portrayed during this period.
Despite changes in taste, or even impositions of the Church, the collection of large stone sculptures that remains today reveals considerable artistic activity, both in terms of quantity as well as artistic excellence.
Most of the works are anonymous, produced in workshops where several craftsmen and apprentices worked under a master. The works of Master Pero are the most easily recognizable considerably raising the level of the art, expressing both slenderness and movement in freestanding figures, thus freeing them from the static models and archaic appearance of Gothic sculpture.
This period yielded mainly altar imagery and tombs, never attempting to produce large sculptures or groups of figures. However, it is considered the height of medieval Portuguese sculpture due to its iconographic richness and aesthetic refinement.
Sculpture in wood produced, on a par with that in limestone, some remarkable pieces, particularly of the Crucifixion. One of the most impressive works is one that traditionally became known as the ‘Black’ Christ ( fig. 13 ).
Beginning in the late 13th century, the figure of Christ’s body no longer hung stiffly on the cross but formed a sinuous curve. The elongation and contortion of the body in this image expresses a Gothic plastic feel. However, the dramatic expression with a half-open mouth and blood dripping along the arms, reflects a realistic Peninsular attitude to grief, rather more Portuguese than Spanish, as seen in the characteristic expression of resignation.
The 1400s were remarkable for the vitality of the workshops in the Coimbra region. The abundance of stone-quarries combined with the advantages of transporting works along the Mondego River meant that the necessities of a wider and more demanding market were met. This brought about the reorganization of this sculptural centre whose vast production spread throughout the country. Images of martyred Christian saints was plentiful – Saint Catherine and Saint Sebastian among others – as well as trilogies of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Women.
Some of the names of the image-carvers are known, though almost all with works still to be identified. However, we do know that João Afonso, Diogo Pires-
o-Velho and Diogo Pires-o-Moço were responsible for most of the Portuguese carved imagery.
The role of the main sculptural centre moved from the works at Batalha, under the influence of the Infante D. Pedro, Duke of Coimbra, who commissioned several polychrome images for the region of Montemor-o-Velho from one of the principle creators of the sculptures in the Mosteiro da Batalha, the sculptor
Gil Eanes ( fig. 16 ). His disciple, João Afonso ( fig. 15 ), moved back to Coimbra reviving the Mondego workshop, his works easily identifiable as they are all signed and dated. Until the 1460s his workshop secured the most important
part of the sculptural production. He was succeeded by Diogo Pires-o-Velho whose work during the last quarter of the century ( fig. 17 ) shows important advances when compared to the work of previous masters. It is characterized by figures of a greater size, where a certain hardness of attitude and features prevail but with a more naturalistic treatment of the garments than those of his predecessor.
His workshop was to be continued by his son (or nephew) Diogo-Pires-o-Moço.
The second half of the 15th century saw the last stages of the Gothic period where new trends were being brought in, mainly by foreign influences. Many of these characteristics – realism in the treatment of the face and anatomy, more dynamism in the drapery and a liking for detail – correspond to European tendencies of the Late Gothic period.

16th Century

Northern European influences would determine that wood was to assume a relevant role in the production of sculpture. Once again Coimbra became instrumental in spreading this new aesthetic that was to embrace the entire country. Some of the finest Flemish sculptors were working here, in particular, the sculptor and wood carver Olivier de Gand who, in the service of Bishop-Count Jorge de Almeida, executed the majority of the pieces now in the Museum, originally produced for the Cathedral, the Episcopal Palace and the convents of the city and its environs.
The 16th century was a complex period in Portugal, a period of openness and conservatism, of innovation and tradition. On the one hand were the traditional Gothic of the workshops in the Coimbra region, whilst on the other was the Flemish art brought by artists from northern Europe ( fig. 20 ) and, at the same time, the new aesthetics and canons of the Renaissance. Thus, the sculpture of the Manueline period can formally be described as being the transition between Late Gothic and Renaissance styles. Coimbra continued to be in the forefront in terms of the quantity of sculpture produced. However, the settlement of Spanish, French and German artists in the city brought new vibrancy and influences. In fact, there were many foreigners working in Portugal during this period.
The works of Diogo Pires-o-Moço continued in the Late Gothic style ( fig. 18 ), and are prominent among the distinguished sculpture of the beginning of this century. A local artist, regarded as a link between the Gothic tradition – now in a phase of renovation – and the language of the Renaissance. His work revealed the strong influence of the Flemish sculptors so popular among the Portuguese commissioners and patrons.
Although we see the Northern European influence in some stone carvings it was, however, the style of the French who settled in Coimbra during the first half of the 1500s that conquered. Nicolau Chanterenne, João de Ruão and Hodart shared a background in centres familiar with the artistic styles of the Italian Renaissance.
The Museum has a great number of works from this period that show one very obvious characteristic – the alteration in size and volume. They are large retables and altarspieces portraying various scenes in relief with free-standing images, proportioned to them in themes that are, almost exclusively, religious with emphasis given to the Virgin, to Christ, and in particular, to the Nativity cycle.
Nicolau Chanterenne was the first French artist to establish himself in Coimbra and the most closely connected to the new Renaissance aesthetic. He was a favorite sculptor of the court and the educated nobility of the period and earned a high reputation for the royal tomb effigies that he executed for the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz. The name(s) of the artist(s) who made these tombs remain unknown, there being some confusion between the work of Chanterenne and that of the hypothetical ‘Master of the Royal Tombs’ (figs. 21 and 22 ).
João de Ruão was active in Coimbra during almost fifty years. Gifted with an ability to adapt to his environment, he was the sculptor most sensitive to Portuguese culture. Several generations of sculptors and decorators who passed through his workshop were to establish themselves throughout the country.
In his masterpiece – the Capela do Sacramento in the Sé de Coimbra – or in the Capela do Tesoureiro, now a part of the Museum, Ruão distinctly shows his twofold quality as both sculptor and architect.
The finest pieces in the Museum collection – retables, relief panels, and multi-figured groups – illustrate his soberly ornamented architectural settings.
In his work, serene majestic figures move slowly with no show of emotion, alongside dramatic characters full of inner strength and movement, who sometimes have slight intentional anatomical defects to create an impression. The main figures reflect the artist’s personality, whilst the others result from the influence of Chanterenne and even Hodart (figs. 23 and 25 ).
Hodart was a solitary artist with a restless personality, revealing a strong character evident in his work. It is not surprising that he is considered to be almost a genius as he anticipated the appearance of the Baroque style in Portugal by many decades. He was essentially a sculptor in clay whose most remarkable creation, a life-size rendition of the Last Supper ( fig. 26 ), executed for the dining hall of the Mosteiro de Santa Cruz, belongs to the Museum.

17th – 18th Century

Wood imposes itself again in the 17th century becoming almost the exclusive support both for the sculptures enriched with gilt decoration, a practice originated by the Flemish that had now become widespread, or for the retables and carved wood-paneling where these sculptures are frequently integrated.
Progressively painting disappeared from the retables being replaced by sculptural compositions. Religious canons, as opposed to aesthetic ones, shaped the production of the 17th century. Sculpture now sought to express profound inner sentiments: vision and ecstasy: martyrdom and the anguish of death.
In opposition to the Middle Ages miracle, which relates saint to man, in the art of the Counter Reformation it is the vision that relates man to God, ecstasy being the sign of man’s sanctity (figs. 31 and 32 ). Produced for the decoration of churches and convents, the images are, almost always, sculpted in wood with polychrome and gilt decoration, frequently being integrated in gilt carved wood retables.
The Retable of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception ( fig. 27 ), by the sculptor Manuel da Rocha from the city of Oporto is a good example of this tendency. When he came to Coimbra, already a trained artist, he sought employment in the works of the university colleges. Here he practiced his activity during the second and third quarters of the 17th century. Given the iconography and style of his work, he probably earned his training in Valladolid. However his style was less dramatic than that of the Spanish and more in keeping with the Portuguese tradition ( fig. 28 ).
This exclusively national section emphasizes the religious and even, convent-related nature of the sculpture produced at the time, accompanying the development of workshops inside the convents and the rivalry between the Benedictines and Cistercians.
Most illustrious amongst the sculptor-monks is the Benedictine, Cipriano da Cruz, known as the sculptor of Tibães. During his working life he spent a short period in Coimbra (1685–1690) dedicated to the decoration of the College of his Order. Some of his greatest artistic creations are represented in the Museum, having come from the church of this College, which was destroyed in 1932 (figs. 29 and 30 ).
Wood continued to dominate 18th century sculpture, except for that of the foreign masters. An example is the Frenchman Claude Laprade, who carved in stone. In addition to other statues he produced the allegorical figures for the ‘Gerais’ and ‘Capelos’ rooms, today held in the Museum. He is considered to be the most eminent foreign sculptor to have worked in Coimbra following the Renaissance, having produced several works for the University and collaborated in the Reform undertaken by the Dean, Nuno da Silva Teles.
Wrongly considered to be Italian, it is understandable that Laprade embraced an Italian style as Avignon was his birthplace – a city with strong Italian influences due to the fact that many of the Popes had their roots in Rome, where they received their cultural education – and it was in Avignon that he grew and blossomed as an artist.
The 18th century is renowned as being the century of importations and foreign influences. This came about as a result of the great economic wealth generated by the discovery of gold and diamond mines in Brazil, combined with the king
D. João V’s taste for the arts. Sculpture is characterized, above all, by Italian influences resulting both from the works directly imported from Italy and from the Italian artists who settled in Mafra.
The works became increasingly decorative as religion was united with aesthetics contemplating not only the Good, but also the Beautiful – aiming at a certain affective and emotional dramatization. During this period, iconography of the Virgin is relatively bountiful. Virgins with or without Child, Our Lady of the Rosary and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception amongst many others, becoming extremely popular. They adopted profane elements as in the representation of fabrics, ( fig. 33 ), in part a result of new ideas and techniques that artists working in clay were developing.
Adoration of the Infant Christ was one of the traditions that the Franciscan Order was spreading due to a new iconography that emerged as part of
the Counter-Reformation. Beginning in 1600 many representations of the childhood of Jesus appeared with – the Infant Jesus, Saviour of Mankind,
The Holy Family, The Flight into Egypt, The Adoration of the Magi,
The Nativity cycle – familiar themes depicted in new ways.
The work of Joaquim Machado de Castro, a dominant figure in 18th century statuary, epitomizes the state of Portuguese sculpture of the time. As an image-maker following family tradition, during a period in which religious fundamentals determined this art, he was greatly shocked by the aesthetic principles arriving from Italy, particularly those of Alessandro Giusti.
As the royal sculptor from 1782, he played an important role in the development of the art. He trained disciples and established a theory of sculpture, fighting for the dignity of Portuguese arts and artists. Many of the studies, drawings and models from his vast body of work, as well as his writings and theories on sculpture, are exemplary.
In a second period, receptive to the Rococo language, Machado de Castro opened the way for the Neo-Classical movement of the 19th century distancing himself from the grandiosity of great statuary in stone to be able to create smaller figures remarkable for their rich colouring and costumes. They are mainly figures for nativity scenes, initially executed for the royal family and prestigious religious establishments as well as nobles and members of the court. Due to his following and consequent popularity production increased, secondary workshops appear copying and reproducing sculptors’ models.
Although known as being a sculptor from Lisbon, Machado de Castro was born in Coimbra where he received his humanistic education at the hands of the Jesuits.