Carved images and symbols

Stone, wood, terracota and ivory sculpture

By Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Heraldic Angel (16th century) by Diogo Pires-o-MoçoMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The sculpture collection incorporates works from the 1st 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.

Virgin of the Annunciation (16th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Stone sculpture

The majority of works from our stone sculpture collection is in limestone. In a return to a tradition dating back to the 1C under Roman rule, the Middle age period saw the start of the systematic exploitation of Coimbra’s neighbouring quarries of Ancã, Portunhos, Outil and Pena.

The qualities of this fine, soft white limestone, combined with the ease of transport via river or sea, meant that it soon became the stone of choice for artists and clients in Portugal and Galicia.

Portrait of Agrippina (30 – 40 A.D.) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The Roman city of Aeminium was founded two thousand years ago on the site of present-day Coimbra. The area now occupied by the Museum was then the Forum. To support it the romans created a platform on the hillside with two levels of vaulted galleries-the Cryptoporticus. Here was where we found the oldest piece of our sculpture collection.
This marble portrait sculpture represents Agrippina the Elder, mother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius and grand-mother of Nero, appears copying a Capitol-Venice type.

Mermaid capital (12th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This limestone capital depicts a typical Romanesque theme – the mermaid. Inspired by bestiaries of Oriental origin, this motif symbolised the protective and benevolent aspect of the sea. The piece features asymmetric decoration on three sides with a repetition of the theme: a mermaid holding a fish in her right hand and raising her tail in the other. This capital belonged to the church of São Pedro.

Agnus Dei (12th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The central motif of this limestone relief is the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) decorated with scrolls of vine-leaves and grapes of ancient Visigothic tradition. it is illustrated in the Apocalypses from Lorvão and is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Coimbra Romanesque school. It may have belonged to the ancient church of São Miguel de Milreus or to the Cathedral of Coimbra.

Reliquary Chest of the Moroccan Martyrs (13th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This limestone chest is the earliest surviving iconographic record attesting to the cult dedicated to the five Franciscan martyrs, who are represented being received by the King of Morocco under a colonnade of trilobate arches. It was produced for the Monastery of Lorvão in order to contain a relic of these saints donated by the monarch to Princess Sancha.

Virgin of the O (14th century) by Master PeroMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Popularly known as the Virgin of the O, this polychrome limestone piece, originating from the Cathedral in Coimbra, is one of the most noteworthy pieces of work to come from the hands of Master Pero.

One of the most significant religious phenomena of the Gothic period was the devotion to Our Lady, and the standing, expectant Virgin was its most original image.

Medieval knight (14th century) by Master PeroMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This knight represents Domingos Joanes, buried in the Ferreiros Chapel (Oliveira do Hospital), as attested to by his military accoutrements and his coat-of-arms.
The sculpture, modelled in limestone, was recently attributed to Master Pero.

This exaltation of military values within a funerary context, giving the knight a religious dimension, is characteristic of medieval spirituality.

Christ in the Tomb (14th - 15th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Christ in the Tomb originates from the Monastery of Santa Clara. The realism of the figure heralds the beginning of tomb sculpture of the 15th century. This recumbent figure is one of the most impressive portrayals of the dead Christ, wrapped in a thin shroud covering the head and exposing the feet. The cloth drapes over the sides of the tomb, delineating three niches that hold slumbering soldiers dressed in chain mail with their swords and shields.

Heraldic Angel (16th century) by Diogo Pires-o-MoçoMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

During the Manueline period, the Santa Cruz Monastery became a symbolic, almost mythical site of nationhood, the king himself sponsoring an extensive remodelling programme. Two huge heraldic angels sculpted in limestone by Diogo Pires-o-Moço crowned the façade as protectors of the monarch and the kingdom.

Virgin of the Annunciation (16th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Virgin of the Annunciation, one image of unequalled in Renaissance sculpture. It depicts the Virgin Mary, kneeling on a cushioned prayer stool, following a model common in the 16th century, in which the Virgin, surprised, looks up and raises her hand to her heart. In some ways, this piece is something of an enigma, with many studies and theses having been written on the subjects of its iconography and the identity of the artist. It formerly belonged to the Cathedral of Coimbra.

St. Agnes (16th century) by João de RuãoMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This figure, clothed in garments of the Renaissance period, shows an individualised treatment of the face, which suggests that it could have been a portrait of a young girl from one of the bourgeois families of the city, a social group which formed part of the clientele of the sculptor, Jean de Rouen. This piece reflects the iconographic style of St. Agnes of Rome, with characteristics linking it to the great works of 15th century Florentine carvers. The polychrome limestone is very well preserved.

Lamentation (16th century) by João de RuãoMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Jean de Rouen, from Normandy, sculpted this composition, which was produced during the first phase of his career and is considered to be one of his masterpieces. It portrays St. John and the three Marys, dressed in 16th century period clothing. The decay of the limestone has led to the complete loss of the polychromy.

The slight contortion of their bodies suggests a certain degree of discretion in their movements. The representation of the garments shows impressive subtlety and an eye for detail.

Altarpiece, scenes from the Life of the Virgin (16th century) by João de RuãoMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This two-storey limestone triptych by Jean de Rouen depicts episodes related to the iconography of the Virgin Mary, under the invocation of the Virgin of Compassion.

It consists of six panels, the two central ones containing the pivotal images directly related to the spiritual values of the members of the Misericordia of Coimbra, for whom this work was produced.

‏‏‎ St. Francis (18th century)Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Wood sculpture

It's not frequently that we find wood sculpture works before the 15th century, even though we have precisely one, the Black Christ. Northern European influences would determine that wood was to assume a relevant role in the production of sculpture and the baroque style initiates a brilliant cycle of wood's use that will remain for several centuries.

The Black Christ (14th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This wood sculpture, portraying a larger than lifesize, elongated body of the crucified Christ, has a strong, archaic medieval character. Nevertheless, the elongation of the body contorted with pain conveys a Gothic sculptural feel to this piece. This Crucifix came from the Oratório das Donas in the Monastery of Santa Cruz.

The dramatic expression of the halfopen mouth and the dripping blood along the arms reflect a realistic sentiment associated with work from the Iberian Peninsula, although the expression of resignation is rather more Portuguese than Spanish.

St.Claire (16th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Of German origin this work carved from oak, of exceptional quality, comes from the Monastery of Santa Clara. It was probably imported from the Lower Rhine area with its origin being the Antwerp Factory, where the greatest variety of artistic styles were found, and which is shown by this piece’s representational detail and realistic depiction of the clothing.

Altarpiece of Nativity Scene (16th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This oak altarpiece bears the mark of one of the finest workshops in Antwerp and forms a rectangular structure in which the figures, isolated or connected to the architectural elements, all fit with the others in the scene. They portray the shepherds’ adoration of the Infant Christ in an urban setting.This nativity scene is the finest example of this genre in Portugal and is unique not only because it represents just one scene but also for the quality and preservation of the polychrome and the gilt work. It formerly belonged to the Monastery of Santa Clara.

Pietà (17th century) by Frei Cipriano da CruzMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

For a long time this Pietà was attributed to Juan de Juni as it was thought that Spanish art was more capable of expressing the profound sentiment that forms the theme of the Pietà. However, it is now considered to be unquestionably the work of the Portuguese Benedictine monk, Frei Cipriano da Cruz, who was responsible for the sculpture group for the church of the College of São Bento, in Coimbra, of which this magnificent Pietà formed part.

‏‏‎ ‏‏‎, Unknown author, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
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From a golden period of Portuguese sculpture, these free-standing images of St. Francis and St. Claire, of great artistic quality, were a response to the religious fervour that gripped the nation during the Counter-Reformation and was so characteristic of the devotional iconography of the Baroque period. These pieces, whose carver is unknown, belonged to the Convent of Louriçal.

‏‏‎ St. Francis, 18th century, From the collection of: Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
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‏Last SupperMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

Terracotta and ivory

The production of terracotta sculptures of great importance was well documented from the middle of the 17th century on in Alcobaça and Tibães. The Last Supper by Hodart is an outstanding example of Renaissance sculpture, and unique in Portugal. In terms of ivory sculpture, during the 17th-18th centuries, Portugal became one of the richest countries in the world– a situation which reflected Portuguese colonial expansion and overseas missionary work. 

‏Last Supper ‏Last Supper (16th century) by Filipe HodartMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The genius of Hodart Vyrio is evident in this set of terracotta statues portraying The Last Supper, making it one of the most impressive sculptural works of the European Renaissance. All the figures are sitting and, although badly damaged, they still maintain their primordial majesty. The originality and importance of this group lies particularly in the clearly Mannerist way the figures are treated as regards their form, revealing close affinities with terracotta sculpture from the region of Bologna. The work was created for the new refectory of the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra.

‏Last SupperMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

‏Last SupperMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

The Infant Christ with the Arma Christi (17th century) by Unknown authorMuseu Nacional de Machado de Castro

This important small polychrome ivory carving depicts the Infant Christ with the instruments of the Passion. In his left hand he holds the ladder, the column, the cross and lance with flag; in his right is a basket containing the nails. He wears a close-fitting tunic, and thrown over his shoulder is a cloak decorated in gold, as are his sandals and polychrome hair. The whole is mounted on a fixed base, with gold leaf and a band of diamond-point studs. The piece is from India in the 17th century but its precise provenance is unknown.

Follow this way. We hope you'll enjoy the entire sculpture collection!

Credits: Story

Photo: DGPC/ADF - Photographic Documentation Archive

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