80.000 - 120.000
19 October 2022
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Royal Painting Studio
Oil on oak panel
Lisbon, ca. 1530
Restored at Edmundo Silva Workshop, Lisbon, ca. 1970
Private Collection São João do Estoril
A Bella Maniera
Professor at the School of Arts and Humanities of Lisbon
The ‘Resurrection of Christ’ herewith described, with provenance from a private collection in São João do Estoril, near Lisbon (l), is a prime testimony to Lisbon produced art under the royal patronage of King João III.
Nothing is known about its origin, but it is unquestionable that it was once part of an altarpiece composed of various other scenes of the ‘Passion of Christ’, which was eventually dismantled from a now extinct and unidentified convent. The number 66, painted in black on the back of the painting, together with a red wax seal of an unknown proprietor (m), suggest 19th century ownership and imply that the painting (most certainly considered as it was current practice in the 1800s, a “Portuguese primitive from the Grão Vasco School”), might have belonged to an important private collection, as can be inferred by its high inventory number and by the quality of the painting itself.
It remains a mystery, considering the stupendous quality of the panel and its exceptional execution, how it had remained completely unknown to Old Master’s specialists and scholars until the end of the last century, and that it was not even referred in the literature about art auction sales and domestic collecting. Such is indeed an astonishing and unexplained void.
The painting’s importance was recognised on the occasion of a 1999 International Seminar at the José de Figueiredo Institute, in Lisbon, after a preliminary assessment by Art Historian Dagoberto L. Markl and by the undersigned. The assumption that it represented a precocious work by Diogo de Contreiras was at once accepted as viable, based on affinities of style, of models and of execution, when compared with other paintings of undoubted authorship by the same artist, such as those from the churches of São Silvestre of Unhos (1537-1538), of São Quintino of Serramena (ca. 1540), and of Santa Maria of Almoster (1542-45) (n). The manner of portraying the heads (of the soldiers on the lower section) and the characteristic treatment of hands for instance, find similarities in the above mentioned Contreiras paintings, allowing for the authorship attribution of at least a substantial part of this ‘Resurrection’. As we have written in 1999, “it was only from that moment onwards that the panel was granted its study in the historical-artistic context of Portuguese paintings dating from the reign of King João III, and was hence brought stylistically close to the ‘first period’ of the painter Diogo de Contreiras (ca. 1500-1568), considered by Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, the key personality of the generation that marked the twilight of the late Renaissance canons and the rising of the new language of International Mannerism” (o).
We are indeed in the presence of a painting of depurated artistic conception, evident brushstroke elegance, with figures and other plastic richness’s, as well as weaponry, architectures, and backgrounds, distributed on a spatial organization that adheres to rules of Renaissance perspective. In addition to this exemplary effect there is also obvious elegance of execution, so much so in the drafting of the human figures (particularly the soldiers sleeping by the open tomb, with their suits of armour of Dutch ornamentation) as well as in the transparency of atmospheres, the mastery of colours, the poetry of the landscape background to the left (emphasizing the detail of the Noli me tangere - the apparition of the resuscitated Jesus to Mary Magdalene by the fountain in the garden), an in the general unearthly light effects that shroud the whole scene.
If it is certain that Jesus Christ’s pose over the tomb confirms full adherence to an orderly and precise canon of elegance that finds acceptance in the paintings produced by the Lisbon Royal Studio, directed by the painter Jorge Afonso and continued by his followers (see the Resurrection of Christ from the Monastery of Jesus in Setúbal, attributed to Jorge Afonso (p), that from the altarpiece of Funchal’s Cathedral, produced in the Royal Studio (q), and that from the former altarpiece of the Monastery of the Santíssima Trindade, by Garcia Fernandes (1537), now at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, as well as that of the Monastery of Ferreirim, from 1533-34, by his followers Cristóvão de Figueiredo and Garcia Fernandes (r)), it is also clear that the excellence of drawing of the three soldiers, the one on the right with remarkable expression and surprised gesture, the ones on the left still asleep, is assertive of a new, clearly Mannerist dynamic, under which they were conceived, and one which evidences differing modelling processes and a formal boldness that overcomes the normative seemingly suggested by the basic compositional model. Particularly attractive is the pose of the sleeping soldier leaning on his helmet, with a wonderful facial expression, and the drafting of the hand on which the face rests, which is repeated on the panels from Unhos and São Quintino. On the other side the powerful surprised expression of the soldier on the right-hand side has an almost portrait-like quality.
In other words, to a model within the Jorge Afonso tradition, that softly merges the Northern European influences from Bruges and Antwerp, was juxtaposed a new Italian breeze, that is evident in the Mannerist resourcefulness with which the proposed model was, in practice, executed. Such incongruity values even more this painting, by suggesting that it might relate to an early commission, from circa 1530, faithful to the canons of the Royal Painting Studio, but painted by a younger artist of that “school” that was familiar with works by Cristóvão de Figueiredo and Garcia Fernandes. It is thus understandable why, amongst other details, the marble tomb, close to which the soldiers sleep, includes in its decoration two classical tondi depicting, on the left, ‘Joseph thrown into the pit’ and on the right, ‘Jonah being swallowed by the whale’, both themes precisely featured in the renowned ‘Deposition in the Tomb’ panel by Cristóvão de Figueiredo (1522-1530), originally from Coimbra’s Monastery of Santa Cruz and now at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, in Lisbon. The presence of these two circular medallions featuring episodes from the Old Testament, beyond reflecting a discourse of association of the figure of Jesus Christ with themes from those texts, according to the system of biblical conformity that Christian Humanism then pursued, does also evidence that the artist that executed the essential of this painting was acquainted with models from Cristóvão de Figueiredo’s workshop, and had learned under the light of the so called “Masters of Ferreirim”, albeit with enough originality to free himself of such tutelage and assert his own style and individuality. The result is indeed glaring: the Renaissance compositive order giving place, with greater clarity in the lower section of the painting, to the restlessness, whims, and formal elongations of the Mannerism. A Bella Maniera perceived in fact by two approaches; the Romanised Northern fiamminghi (Jan Van Scorel, for instance) and the Rafaelesque tenderness that, if it is already suggested in Garcia Fernandes, it has here a deeper meaning of appropriation.
As already referred, these similarities of this painting with models from Cristóvão de Figueredo (and from Garcia Fernandes) “confirms moreover, that Diogo de Contreiras frequented, in the early stages of his career, the studio of the Cardinal-Prince Afonso painter, as has been suggested by extant records and is now reinforced in terms of artistic inheritance. This absorbed influence does not merely extinguish itself in that apparent coincidence in the use of common citations and models, as there are also clear similarities in the choice of props and weaponry, in the warm tone effects and in the unburden atmospheric perspectives” (s). If Cristóvão de Figueiredo, who beyond being an examiner painter and valuer was also a renowned “paintings designer”, is a strong reference in this ‘Resurrection’ discourse, the art of the Royal painters Jorge Afonso (ca. 1470-1540) and Gregório Lopes (ca. 1490-1550) does also emerge as a source of knowledge for the author of the work being analysed, as is clear in the traditional rovine featured in various panels dating from the “Manueline Age”, which come to mind when observing the carefully designed classical portal on the right, with its fine Renaissance capital with a putto finial and an attic with the ‘Eternal Father’ portrayed in relief. In this instance the artist has turned to a Rafaelesque engraving by Marcoantonio Raimondi. The structure of the oblique portal to the right of the composition, remits to an identical solution to that seen in Garcia Fernandes’s 1636 altarpiece panel from Vila Viçosa’s Church of Chagas, which portrays the ‘Holy Women at the Empty Tomb’ (t).
This Resurrection does therefore document in all probability, the early stages of a resourceful artist’s career before he reaches his own autonomy and well-deserved fame. This is also evident in another, albeit later, work that is organized according to identical studio canons, following “Masters de Ferreirim” models; the altarpiece from the Chapel of São Bartolomeu at Lisbon’s Cathedral (1537), in which Contreiras intervention is, according to Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, decisive (u). In the case of the suits of armour, with helmets, cuirasses and caligae of Antwerpian origin that are visible in the lower section soldiers, with classical grottesche scrolls and fantastic anthropomorphic heads on the shoulders, they are elements that reappear in Diogo de Contreiras work in São Quintino and in Santa Maria of Almoster, and which “pass” onto his disciple from Santarém, Ambrósio Dias, as well as onto the painter of the altarpiece of Santa Cruz of Graciosa in the Azores.
In regards to the panel from Santa Maria of Almoster, which depicts identical Resurrection scene and is fully documented (its execution dates to 1542-1545), now in a private collection, it is an assumedly Mannerist work in its treatment of models and plastic values, even if Diogo de Contreiras adopts a compositional model that, and purely in that aspect, is strictly derived from the panel herewith discussed – revealing himself, approximately 15 years later, faithful to his roots and following modelling experiments used in his “first phase”.
Let’s return to the detail of the sleeping soldier resting on his helmet; the individualized design, the transparency of modelling, the expressive strength, are all sharply seen in the figures from the São Quintino panels, on the subject of which Reynaldo dos Santos highlighted precisely the resonances of the Florentine sfumato, the art historian Adriano de Gusmão stating that it was the closest to the work of Jacopo da Pontormo to be found in all of the 1500s Portuguese artistic production.
It is undoubtedly a work of excellence whose ‘artistic question marks’ endow of particularly reinforced relevance.
Acknowledgements: to José Mendes for the painting’s laboratorial tests, to André Varela Remígio and to Raul Sampaio Lopes, Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, Teresa Desterro e Pedro Flor for the fruitful discussion on Contreiras (and the pseud-Gregório Lopes and pseudo-Contreiras). To be noted that the hypothesis of a collaboration between Garcia Fernandes and Diogo de Contreiras in the execution of the present painting was also suggested by Raul Sampaio Lopes.
(l) The discovery of this painting was due to Mr. Luís Filipe Passanha Guedes who, in the context of the 1998 International Seminar ‘Estudo da Pintura Portuguesa. Oficina de Gregório Lopes’ in the then José de Figueiredo Institute, referred its existence, therefore allowing for its preliminary analysis and subsequent presentation in the exhibition ‘Cristo, Fonte de Esperança’ (Porto, 2000).
(m) The attempts at heraldic identification of this shield of German origin (according to Prof. Miguel Metello de Seixas) have so far been unsuccessful.
(n) On the subject of Contreiras, cf. Joaquim de Oliveira Caetano, O que Janus Via. Rumos e Cenários da Pintura Portuguesa (1535-1570), Masters Dissertation, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 1996; idem, «O pintor Diogo de Contreiras e a sua actividade no Convento de São Bento de Cástris», Boletim A Cidade de Évora, nºs 71-76, 1988-1993; and Maria Teresa Desterro, O Mestre de Romeira e o Maneirismo Escalabitano, 1540-1620, Coimbra, Minerva, 2000; Pedro Flor, «A autoria do retábulo de Santa Maria de Almoster por Diogo de Contreiras (1540-1542)», Artis, 1ª série, nº 3, 2004, pp. 335-341; João Miguel Simões e Vítor Serrão, «O testamento inédito do pintor Diogo de Contreiras (1563)» , Artis – revista do Instituto de História da Arte, nº 9/10, 2010-2011, pp. 207-212; and Vítor Serrão, A Pintura Maneirista e Proto-Barroca, 1550-1700, vol. XI collection Arte Portuguesa da Pré-História ao Século XX, directed by Dalila Rodrigues, ed. FUBU and Jornal de Notícias, Lisboa, 2009.
(o) Vítor Serrão, «Ressurreição – Diogo de Contreiras», in Exhibition catalogue Cristo Fonte de Esperança -- Grande Jubileu do Ano 2000, organized by Carlos Moreira Azevedo and João Mário Soalheiro, Porto, 2000, pp. 138-139.
(p) Fernando António Baptista Pereira Imagens e Histórias de Devoção. Espaço, Tempo e Narratividade na Pintura Portuguesa do Renascimento (1450-1550), PHD Dissertation, Universidade de Lisboa, 2002.
(q) Cf. Fernando António Baptista Pereira, Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, José Alberto Seabra Carvalho and Vítor Serrão, «O Retábulo da capela-mor da Sé do Funchal obra marcante do patrocínio régio do princípio do século», in As Ilhas do Ouro Branco. Encomenda Artística na Madeira. Séculos XV-XVI, Exhibition catalogue, século», in As Ilhas do Ouro Branco. Encomenda Artística na Madeira. Séculos XV-XVI, Exhibition catalogue, coordinated by Fernando António Baptista Pereira and Francisco Clode de Sousa, Lisboa, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 2017, pp. 36-53.
(r) Cf. catalogue by José Alberto Seabra Carvalho (Commissioner), Primitivos Portugueses (1450-1550), Exhibition, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, 2010-2011.
(s) Vítor Serrão, in Exhibition catalogue Cristo Fonte de Esperança -- Grande Jubileu de 2000, cit.
(t) Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, Garcia Fernandes e Diogo de Contreiras, dois pintores do Renascimento, e a Casa de Bragança, nº 7 collection Muitas Cousas, Fundação da Casa de Bragança, 2019.
(u) Joaquim Oliveira Caetano, in Exhibition catalogue Garcia Fernandes, pintor renascentista, eleitor da Misericórdia (coordination Nuno Vassallo e Silva and Joaquim Oliveira Caetano), ed. Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, 1998. Cf. also in the same catalogue, Manuel Batoréo e Vítor Serrão, «O retábulo de São Bartolomeu da Sé de Lisboa. Garcia Fernandes numa obra de «parceria», pp. 86-103.
Vítor Serrão, «As tábuas do Santuário do Bom Jesus de Valverde, uma encomenda do Cardeal D. Henrique ao pintor Gregório Lopes», in International Seminar Estudo da Pintura Portuguesa. Oficina de Gregório Lopes, Directed by Ana Isabel Seruya and Luísa Maria Alves, ed. Instituto José de Figueiredo, Lisboa, 1998, pp. 47-79, refª pp. 70 e 79, nota 126 e fig. 30.
Idem, «Ressurreição – Diogo de Contreiras», in Exhibition catalogue Cristo Fonte de Esperança -- Grande Jubileu do Ano 2000, organized by Carlos Moreira Azevedo and João Mário Soalheiro, Porto, 2000, pp. 138-139.