Church of São Roque, Lisbon
Fortunately spared by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, this Chapel was one of the most famous enterprises of the Magnanimous king, who wished to leave in this church of the Society of Jesus the mark of his reign, namely the image of a sovereign that would be no less important than the main European courts of the time.
The architectural project, however, was involved in a somewhat heated controversy between the responsible for its development in Rome, Nicola Salvi (1697-1751) and Luigi Vanvitelli (1700-1773), and the coordinators of the commission in Portugal, led by João Frederico Ludovice (1673-1752), the German architect at the service of King João V.
In turn the Roman architects keen to develop the artistic side tried not without difficulty to satisfy all the directives emanated from Lisbon, as explained through the documents emanated from Portugal. Thus, Salvi and Vanvitelli had to change more than once their project, even the more original components, so that the work would comply with the more classic and formal tastes imposed from Lisbon.
An important element to be mentioned here related with the commission is the Weale Album (the name coming from the English editor, John Weale, who owned it). The volume in question, despite various vicissitudes which threatened its survival in the 19th century, is currently deposited in the library of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was entitled “Libro degli Abozzi de Disegni delle Commissioni che si fanno in Roma per Ordine della Corte” and is a meticulously written and drawn record of the Italian art commissions for Lisbon ordered by the Ambassador Manuel Pereira Sampaio in Rome.
Equally the mosaics, which feature the Baptism of Christ (the central one), the Annunciation and the Pentecost (the side ones).All these professionals, as well as the mosaicists, the sculptors and even the painter Agostino Masucci, responsible for the execution of the original paintings here transposed on to the mosaic panels, all worked under the straight coordination and supervision of the Italian architects, who were the ultimate responsible for the compositions
The homogeneity of the materials, the uniformity in the execution and the formal unity characterize the chapel vestments as a whole, “conforming to the richest and best taste in Rome”. The aim was clear: as with the other works of art commissioned for the Chapel, so the textile works should not be secondary in the projection of the image, which had to emulate the taste, the style and pageantry of Rome.
In sequence to the expulsion of the Society of Jesus in 1759, the Church and the Professed House of São Roque were entrusted to the Misericórdia de Lisboa, in 1768, by king José I. Nevertheless the Chapel of St. John the Baptist continued in possession of the Royal House up to 1892, when its care was handed over by the Ministry of the Kingdom to the Misericórdia de Lisboa, together with the whole ensemble of liturgical items, creating the museum in 1905.
General Coordination: Margarida Montenegro
Executive Coordenator: Teresa Morna
Exhibition Curators: Maria Lino; António Meira; Luísa Colen; Patrícia Lamas
Photo Credits: Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa; Cintra & Castro Caldas, Julio Marques