An altar front is a rectangular azulejo panel facing churchgoers imitating intricate tapestries with embroidery and fringes. This three-section frontal was made in Lisbon around 1650, and its motifs were inspired by decorative cloth imported from China and India. The panel depicts exotic landscapes filled with peonies and other flowers, fruits, deer, monkeys, peacocks, birds and even a Chinese pagoda. The figures are crowded together as though empty space was to be avoided at all costs. In this Christian interpretation, the landscape suggests what paradise is like. Although the motifs are painted in blue and green over a white background, the predominant colour is yellow, which highlights the sumptuous gold used in the embroidery and fringes. One of the most original characteristics of Portuguese azulejo-making is its capacity to include motifs from other cultures and to create new meanings by combining these foreign motifs with Portuguese or European scenarios. These altar fronts, which began to appear in the mid 17th century, are examples of this capacity. Lisbon production.


  • Title: Altar frontal
  • Date Created: 1625/1650
  • Physical Location: On deposit at MNAz, Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon, Portugal (Collection Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro)
  • Physical Dimensions: 92 cm x 176 cm
  • Provenance: Carmelite convent of the Coimbra region
  • Medium: Polychrome faience

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