The Life of Christ, through Indo-Portuguese Art

An interpretation of Christ's life as seen in the Indo-Portuguese art objects of the Museum of Christian Art

By Museum Of Christian Art, Goa

Museum of Christian Art, Goa

Angel Gabriel (17th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Angel Gabriel

Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary while she was praying and declared that she would give birth to Christ, the Son of God. The Angel then appeared in a dream to Joseph, who was engaged to Mary, and told him that she was going to have a child, whom he was to name  Jesus.

Angel Gabriel

Angels usually do not appear individually in pictorial representations, but this painting in 16th century style may be considered an exception. It shows an angel in a long  robe, with a rounded neckline, over which a decorated fringed tunicle is worn. The cloak falls in elegant folds supported by the arms and with the hands crossed in front.

The large wings of coloured feathers are unlike those associated with  Archangel Gabriel, who stands at the top of the angelic hierarchy and is always shown in pictures of the Annunciation. 

Angel Gabriel (17th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Frame with Virgin and Child

As per the orders of Emperor Augustus, Joseph travelled from Nazareth to his city, Bethlehem, to be registered along with Mary who was expecting a child. 

While they were in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to a son in a manger, as there was no room in the inn, and wrapped him in swaddles.

This painting depicts the Virgin, with her arms folded at her breast, gazing  at her sleeping child. The Virgin is dressed in a red robe and blue mantle, and has a  gold halo around her head. The child lies asleep, head resting on one hand, beneath the soft folds of a lace-trimmed white coverlet with  floral motifs.

The painting has multiple frames. The innermost is in blue-green and gold. It has a quatrefoil pattern with curving stylized leaf motifs. 

The outer enamel frame, in blue-green and silver, has animal and floral motifs.

A second outer enamel frame of blue-green carries scrolling Mughal-style mango (paisley) motifs in gold. The  external frame, in fine silver filigree work, has stylized flowers, dragonfly motifs and leaf-motifs at the corners.

Frame with Virgin and Child Legend: S Maria (Holy Mary) (17th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Mari Matek Ballok Zala

 This is a Christmas Carol in Konkani written by Dr. Manohar Sardessai  and set to music by Prof. Micael Martins. Aradhon is a Goa based choir, led by Omar de Loiola Pereira. 

Infant Jesus, Saviour of the World

An angel appeared to some shepherds in the fields nearby, who were guarding their flock in the night. They were terrified on seeing the angel. The angel assured them that it came with good news about the birth of the long awaited Messiah – the Saviour of the World.

This image of Infant Jesus Saviour of the World shows two  styles– one, European (the Infant) and the other, Indo-Portuguese (the base) – that merge harmoniously. The European characteristics include the Infant's anatomical form and  the use of silver-plated tin and the flesh tints on the body.

The gold-embroidered velvet gown was also made in India where the art of gold thread embroidery (zardozi) was practiced to a high degree of perfection.

The image’s base comprises a globe on a silver-clad wooden base. The Indian elements are evident in the goldsmith's treatment of the serpent with overlapping scales wrapped around the sphere. The water-leafed plant forms, shell designs, pointed lozenges and Nagas stand out on this Indianized piece. 

Infant Jesus Saviour of the World (18th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Virgin and the Child

Wise men from the East came to king Herod seeking the new born King of the Jews. They claimed to have seen the star of the new King at its rising. The frightened king asked the wise men to find the new born child and to inform him so that he too could visit.

After the wise men had found the child and offered him their gifts, they were informed in a dream to not return to king Herod. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and asked him to flee to Egypt with the child and Mary.

This image portrays the Virgin Mary, with her head partly covered by a short veil that reveals her long wavy golden tresses. The colour and decorative details of the Virgin's flowing drapery underscores the grand gesture with which she presents the Infant Jesus. 

Large gold stars superimposed over broad gold stripes, designed on the cloak, are an attribute of representations of the Virgin Mary as the  “Morning Star”.

Virgin and the Child (18th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Holy Family

The Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the death of king Herod. When Jesus was twelve years of age, he accompanied his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. He stayed back at the temple in Jerusalem without his parent’s knowledge. It is said that after three days, they found him among the teachers in the temple, listening to and asking them questions. He returned to Nazareth along with his parents.

This depiction of the Holy Family comprises of a set of five standing images of (from left) St Joachim - the maternal grandfather of Jesus, St Joseph, Child Jesus, Mary and St Anne - the maternal grandmother of Jesus. 

Holy Family (20th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Infant Jesus the Good Shepherd

It is believed that Christ came into the world to preach God’s message of love for mankind. He began his public ministry in Galilee, and made use of the parables to convey his message to the people, referring to himself as the Good Shepherd and to the people as his flock. It is said that wherever he went, huge crowds of people followed, to listen to his teachings and to be healed.

The imagery of the Infant Jesus as the Good Shepherd is the most complex in Indo-Portuguese Christianity. The symbolism rests on the interpretation given to the Infant - a young shepherd boy in sheepskin around whom sheep gambol, as well as in the treatment of the stony pedestal.

The pedestal, conceived as a terraced hillock, has a face from whose mouth the water of life gushes into a basin from which birds of paradise drink. Sheep graze around the basin. The lower part forms a grotto that shelters a Holy Penitent Saint Mary of Egypt – identified by her attributes: the cross, bread of fasting and prayer book.

The foliage of a symbolic tree of life would have originally surrounded this scene, but has been lost.

Infant Jesus the Good Shepherd (17th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Calvary figures of Christ

As word of Jesus’ miracles and preaching spread around, a lot of people began to follow him. There were some who did not agree with what he was doing and wanted to get him killed. They arrested Jesus while he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The imprisoned Christ was brought before Pontius Pilate. He was tied to a pillar and scourged. 

These three images of Christ are representative of those used by artists to fill the niches in the base of Indo-Portuguese Calvary crosses: Christ praying; Christ with his hands tied; and Christ tied to a pillar.

The treatment of Christ’s head in all three images is quite similar, with hair parted in the centre, coiling over his shoulders and falling down his back. 

The styling of the hair over a low forehead allows us to attribute this group to an artist from the south of Malabar, where such physical features survive to this day.

Calvary figures of Christ (Late 17th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Christ on the way to Calvary

Pontius Pilate could not find any fault with Christ and hence handed him over to the Jewish priests and soldiers to be crucified. Christ carried the cross of his crucifixion on his shoulders. While on his way to Calvary, he met his grieving Mother.

This 18th century polychrome and gilt painting on wood depicts the fourth station, where Christ meets his Mother while on the way to Calvary. 

This painting is quite theatrical in the way it depicts Christ turning his face to the observer, away from his own suffering. The houses of Jerusalem can be seen in the background.

Station of the Cross (Christ on his way to Calvary) (18th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Altar crucifix

The soldiers crucified Christ at a place called Golgotha, whose name means ‘the place of the skull’, along with two criminals, one on either side. 

Pilate had written an inscription, which the soldiers nailed to the top of the cross. The inscription, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ was written in three different languages –Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

This 18th century altar crucifix is fashioned from painted wood and is embellished by gilt carving and mother-of-pearl.  The painted figure of Christ is made of ivory and is topped by a tablet bearing the customary initials INRI (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). Its loincloth does not have much decoration and is held up on the right, with its ends falling almost to the knees.

Altar crucifix (18th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa


Moments before he died on the cross, Christ called his beloved Apostle John and told him to take Mary as his mother, and to Mary to take John as her son. Christ’s lifeless body was brought down from the cross and placed in his grieving mother’s arms, before being placed in a tomb.

As in most representations, in this sculpture, the Virgin’s expression is resigned. She wears a large blue gold-bordered cloak partly covering a crimson garment decorated with floral motifs. Marks of the violent crucifixion are evident on the body of Christ, which slips from his Mother’s lap as she tries to hold him.

Pietá (Early 18th century) by UnknownMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Tabernacle monstrance

The life, death and resurrection of Christ is memorialized at every Eucharistic celebration (Holy Mass).

In art, images, crucifixes, paintings, symbols, as well as some liturgical objects are used to depict the life of Christ.

Among the symbols used to depict Christ’s sacrifice is the Pelican, usually featured in liturgical objects, church altars and other religious art and architecture.

Tabernacle monstranceMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

In the Middle Ages, there was a widespread belief that if there was no food, the Pelican would pierce its own breast and feed its blood to its offspring. The pelican's gesture was compared to what's believed of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the salvation of mankind.

Tabernacle monstranceMuseum Of Christian Art, Goa

Credits: Story

The texts are excerpted from the Museum catalogue, 'Museum of Christian Art Convent of Santa Monica Goa. India'.

Image credits: Antonio Cunha under the commission of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

YouTube videos:
Mari Matek Ballok Zala by Sounds of Goa  - Aradhon

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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