Instruments for workship and symbols of prestige

This collection consists predominately of sacred silverwork, and is a repository for many different Portuguese and foreign artistic styles and techniques developed over eight centuries.

The 12th century is characterized by its plain, squat and rounded shape, s and should there be any decoration, it is in low relief (fig. 1)

The 13th century was a time of compromise between the previous Romanesque and the emergent Gothic styles (fig. 3), base.

The decorative and structural language of Gothic art spreads to the area of precious metalwork in the first half of the 14th century, providing craftsmen with a range of creative options. In the initial stages there is a certain restraint and sobriety, however, the appearance of new materials sees an improvement in the models adopted as illustrated by the pieces belonging to the Treasure of the Queen Saint Isabel.

The second half of this century is recognised for not only combining silver and gold with new precious materials (figs. 5 , 6 and 7 ), but also for adopting architectural elements which gave the pieces a higher structure thus conveying the effect of ascension on engraved ornaments (fig. 8)

Height is part of the spirituality of Gothic art aiming to lead the eyes of the faithful up towards the divine light, thus attaining the salvation of mankind.

The Gothic style finally triumphs in the 15th century with an even stronger connection between precious metalwork and architecture, illustrated in the treatment of the base of the chalice, and the knots on monstrances and processional crosses (figs. 5 and 11 ). Increasingly, coats of arms and heraldic shields (fig.4) , as well as votive inscriptions (figs. 9 and 11 ) appear on the most prestigious pieces of this period. Undoubtedly, the identification of the owner is, in part, the necessity for ostentation, but it may also have been the result of the monarch D. Afonso V’s law of 1472 declaring that all items of great value and grandeur be marked with these symbols to control the high market production costs of the national art of precious metalwork.

The reign of D. Manuel I sees a marked growth in Portuguese art, due to the extremely favourable economic situation resulting from the Portuguese expansion to the Far East. As society grows wealthier, goldsmithery easily satisfies the strong demand for luxury and ostentation (figs. 11 , 12 13 and  14 ).

The monarch himself sponsors numerous works of art, always identifying them with his personal symbol – the armillary sphere – as an affirmation of power and grandeur. Gold and silver craftsmen from all over Europe flock to the city of Lisbon – the most important port for trading precious stones – 430 shops for this purpose being established here by the middle of the 16th century. Renaissance art is established here in the 1530s, during the reign of D. João III, recognizable by a renewal of decorative elements and themes from Greco-Roman antiquity, developing a sober and pure ornamental style (fig. 15) that replaces the dense disorder of the Manueline period.

Mannerism appears in Europe at the beginning of the 16th century, an artistic style originating in Italy. This is a period of radical change from the previously established values of harmony, order and balance (fig. 16)

In art, a pessimistic, chaotic vision of the universe emerges in opposition to the Renaissance ideal of Man as the centre of the universe, and leads to radical solutions provoked by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation movement, the late integration of Portuguese Mannerism evolving in this atmosphere. It is principally after 1563 (date of the last meeting of the Council of Trent), that Portugal defines its iconographic standards in the portrayal of religious imagery, modifying certain earlier themes in accordance with the dogmas of the Counter-Reformation and the desired pedagogical objective of inflaming the souls of believers through scenes of miracles, martyrs and mystic exaltation.

The second half of the 16th century sees a widespread censoring of sacred images to prohibit less orthodox details that might suggest dubious interpretations to less-educated believers. In iconographic terms, the Portuguese tendency is to promote decency and to develop a catechizing vocation. Thus, the mortal remains of saints and martyrs, or simple depictions invoking these, are housed in receptacles – or reliquaries – materializing in the most varied shapes and sizes, accompanying the different artistic styles (figs. 19 and 20 ).

Many of these receptacles for relics are fashioned in the shape of a cross; reliquary crosses were appearing as a mere pretext to display even more relics. Portugal suffers an economic depression at the onset of the 17th century, accentuated by expenses inflicted by the wars of the Restoration from 1640.

These economic problems affect the Portuguese artistic production, although the formal purification or decorative restraint found in some art from the 1600s has been due to aesthetic choices and ideological reasons. While some works from the first half of the 17th century reveal a certain sobriety in their form and decoration, due to the influence of the so-called ‘estilo chão’, some decorative motifs arise from the Mannerist inheritance: grotesque masks, cherubs, garlands, botanical themes as well as elements taken from architectural tracts or simply elements of pure fantasy. Other strong influences that mark Portuguese art of the 17th century are the exotic arts imported from Africa, India and the Orient (figs. 17 and 18 ).

During this transition period, the second half of the century, the coexistence of different artistic styles is prolonged. Meanwhile, despite the continuing economic crisis, D. Pedro II encourages the arts to experiment in a new, Italianized direction.

The role of foreign artists, the importation of works of art, the recourse to theoretical treaties and the divulgence of the printed image all help to contribute to the gradual trend towards the Baroque aesthetics.

The process is slow, and is only evident in examples of later metalwork, marked by a deeply religious feeling. Sumptuous creations such as shrines and silver thrones are manifold, as are luxuriously bound missals, numerous reliquaries, monstrances, crucifixes, crowns, altar bouquets and episcopal staffs.

The influence of architecture on decoration, the portrayal of merely decorative figures and the use of enamel and semi-precious stones almost fall into disuse. In addition to the biblical themes, exuberant botanical decorations (acanthus, foliage, vines, ears of wheat) become widespread, with the tulip becoming the preferred ornament.

As the tendency to value the simplicity of form develops, this abundant decoration spreads to profane objects – trays, fruit bowls, vases, and pitchers – in a Proto-Baroque sensitivity which is to announce the great creations of the Baroque.

Baroque art developed in the second half of the 17th century, seeking the highly refined and contrasting effects of dynamic lines and voluminous shapes, finally emerging triumphant, in all its splendour and exuberance, during the reign of D. João V in the following century (figs. 23 , 24 and 25 ).

Following the adoption of French and, more especially, Italian imported models, Portuguese goldsmithery begins to lose some of its originality. In effect, these imported models are to be felt throughout the late 18th century, along with the Neo-Classical language introduced by the British community in Oporto.