The Painted Ceiling of the church of São Roque

By Museu de São Roque

In 1588 king Philip I of Portugal approved the project for the ceiling
decoration of the church of São Roque,  consisting  only, in this fase, of the pretended architectures painted in perspective, simulating a vaulted ceiling with three domes.  

Church of Sao Roque - view of the Main AltarMuseu de São Roque

The Jesuits asked the architect Afonso Álvares to built a wide church, like a hall, something unusual in the first half of the 16th century in Portugal, where churches were divided by columns and topped by vaulted ceilings. The major problem was to find a roof to that 'new' architectural structure.

Ceiling of the chuch of Saint Roch (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

Finally, it was decided to build a wooden ceiling from Prussian wood.The painting of the ceiling was done between 1584 and 1590. Two painters participated in this work: Francisco Venegas, in a first phase, and Amaro do Vale, in a second phase, in which narrative and decorative elements were added.

Francisco Venegas was responsible for painting the feigned architectural details in perspective, that is in trompe l’oeil, simulating a vaulted ceiling with three domes

In one of the domes the author represented himself, to emphasize the notion of perspective or to leave his authorial mark.

Amaro do Vale was responsible for the central medallion as well as for the various biblical episodes depicted around the perimeter.

Detail of the medallion (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

The theme of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Instruments of the Passion of Christ is depicted at the center. Its prominent position has to do with the very importance of the Cross and the Passion as the main symbols of Christianity.

Around the medallion is the tetramorph, the set of symbols of the four Evangelists. On one edge: the eagle and the man, representing the Gospels of John and Matthew respectively.

Detail of the medallion. Other side (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

At the other end: the bull and the lion, representing Luke and Mark, respectively

Church of Sao Roque - view of the Main AltarMuseu de São Roque

The four Evangelists are also represented as sculptures at the center of the church’s nave, in correspondence with their location in the painted ceiling.

Detail of the ceiling (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

Entrance Panel. Christ is received in the house of Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters. This episode is only described in Luke's gospel, here interpreted as an antecedent to the Last Supper, which is represented in the opposite panel.

Other detail of the ceiling (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

Panel of the Main Altar. The Last Supper. The moment of institution of the Eucharist appears precisely over the place where it is celebrated. The bread and the chalice with wine are two central elements, representing the body and blood of Christ.

Ceiling of the chuch of Saint Roch (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

On the perimeter we find, on the gospel side (the
left side of a temple when viewed from the main entrance) three scenes flanked by two paintings in grisalle. 1. The meeting of Melchizedek with Abraham; 2.The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; 3. The sacrifice of Isaac.

Here the meeting of Melchizedek with Abraham, in which the first consecrates the bread and wine offered by Abraham. The image is flanked by two grisailles depicting, on the left, the tree of life, and on the right, the giant grapes of Canaan.

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, in which Jesus fed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Flanked by two grissailles, on the left, Moses building an altar for the covenant with God, and, on the right, Moses conceiving a table for the offering.

The sacrifice of Issac, an episode in which Abraham prepares to sacrifice his only son, thinking it to be God's will. Flanked by two grisailles depicting, on the left, the ark where some manna was kept for future memory and, on the right, Elijah's in the desert, being fed by an angel.

Alternate view of the ceiling (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

On the epistole side (the right side of a temple when viewed from the main entrance) three scenes flanked by two paintings in grisalle. Starting from right to left (due to turning of the view): 1.The gathering of the manna; 2. The Supper at Emmaus; 3.The Passover of the Jews

Here the episode of the gathering of the manna, which fell from heaven to feed the people of Israel. Flanked by two grisailles representing, on the left, Moses kneeling before God, with the people in the distance, and, on the right, Moses and Aronah.

The Supper at Emmaus between two disciples and a stranger on the day of the Resurrection, during which the last reveals himself as Christ. Flanked by two grisailles, on the left, God warns Moses of the death of the firstborn in Egypt, and on the right, Ezekiel's vision of the Temple of Solomon.

Passover of the Jews. According to tradition, Jews should eat fire-roasted meat, standing with sandals on and staff in hand, as if they were about to go on a journey. On the left grisaille, Elijah evoking divine power through sacrifice, and on the right grisaille, Noah's Ark, during the flood.

Ceiling of the chuch of Saint Roch (1584-1590) by Francisco Venegas & Amaro do ValeMuseu de São Roque

This beautiful 16th century ceiling can be visited at the church of São Roque. Of the several Mannerist painted ceilings known to have existed in Lisbon, this is the only one that has reached our days.

Credits: Story

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Gonçalo de Carvalho Amaro
Museu de São Roque

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