Portugal, amid the golden age of King John V, experienced a time of greatness and prosperity, only compared to the time of the overseas expansion and the Portuguese conquer of the East. The discovery and exploration of expansive deposits of gold and diamonds in Minas Gerais (Brazil) would empower the royal arts to achieve a remarkable development from the north to the south of the country, through the royal patronage, great clerics and nobility.
The exponential increment in orders for works of art dictated the hiring of all the masters and craftsmen available, attracting many foreigners to Portugal who, because of their technical qualities, needed to carry out major architectural works, namely those of the Royal Operation. In these circumstances, dictated by the developing demand, there was an extraordinary progress in the field of decorative arts (carving, glazing, woodworking and goldsmithing), and the mastery of the carving and tiling achieved genuine levels of flawlessness.
In this context, we can glimpse magnificent examples of this masterful period of Portuguese tile art in the Palace of the Counts of Anadia, as in the staircase and the noble hall, covered by plentiful panels with tiles of the Coimbra school, dated c. of 1740, and attributed to Salvador Sousa Carvalho. “Much of this spectacularism is due to the extensive blue and white tiles, of a much greater height than usual and cut over the white of the walls” 9.
The staircase panels, whose iconographic collection is outlined in the work by Amadeo di Castellamonte: “La Venaria Reale – Palazzo di Piacere e di Caccia“, published in 1672. As the title alludes, it presents the pleasure of hunting in the Palace of the Duke of Sabóia, with exuberance, treating the theme primarily through mythological scenes about Diana, the goddess of hunting, be that of the Metamorphosis of Actaeon, or of Diana releasing the nymph Britomarte, and killing the Dragon, presenting, following the first landing and the two hauls until reaching the second, the exaltation of the Family of the Duke Carlos Emanuel II, arranged in equestrian parade, as well as amazons hunting.
In addition to the proper architectural functionality, the staircase represents great symbolism and meaning, because on the one hand, it represents an affirmation of the aristocratic status of the Lord of the House, intuiting gravity and ceremony, consistent with the surrounding space; on the other hand, using the iconographic route as an introspective way, incites the new generations through the deed of Diana (goddess of hunting), as a reflection of an image associated with the hunting practices for the education of the nobility, presenting “the virtues of the Princeps exalted by hunting , defining his ideal moral profile; ambition, dignity, decorum, elegance, skill (through audacity and prudence), through a taste for conquest and for the enjoyment of the game.”10.
Regarding the Coimbra center of tile production, José Meco says: “This ceramic center continued to make an impressive number of tile compositions, with predominance of figurative panels, which hold the rudeness and mass decoration of the previous era, reaching an extroversion (…), culminating in the high cut-outs of the panels of the noble staircase and a room of the Solar dos Condes de Anadia, in Mangualde.”11.
In the large Noble Hall, large panels of tiles attributed to Sousa Carvalho appear, “with the same traces, chromatics and decorative language of the ceramic panels previously described” 12, symbolizing the four parts of the World known so far: Europe, Africa, Asia and America; as well as the four elements represented by the Roman gods: Air – Juno; Water – Neptune; Fire – Vulcan and Earth – Venus.
Along the main body toward the west, we find all the other rooms and rooms clad in ashlar of pombaline tiles (in blue and white) of standard type, except for the Noble Hall (as mentioned). The contrast between their balance and the exuberant panels of the Noble Hall makes for a better harmonization of the tile decorative progression, marking without interruption the passage of time en route to the Ballroom (located on the south side).
Finally, the Ballroom is lined with tiles ashlars of “rococo, with the characteristic shell work and a strong yellow chromatics, added to the traditional blue and white of the time“ 13, attributed to Master Manuel da Silva (Coimbra school, c.1770), 14 representing “O Mundo às Avessas” under cards where Oudry illustrated the Fables of La Fontaine and addressed this rare theme.
This is a peculiar iconography, in which three seemingly distinct subjects are dealt with, which have as their common denominator, due to certain theories and norms of life in society (based on natural law), raising, “through the figuration of the absurd“, to spread new behavioral models.
The first represents several situations by reversing the roles between Man and animals: – Slaughter of man by the pig, Tournament in which the horses are mounted on the knights, Donkeys riding a cart, Mules and donkeys leading men loaded with saddles, Horsemen hunting animals in the water at the same time as fish swim in the air, and Fishing of a boy by a fish. These representations intend to symbolize the confrontation between Nature and Reason, highlighting the hierarchical order of the society of the old regime.
The second “alludes to the inversion of the physical order of the position of the stars, in a humorous tone in relation to the astronomical theories spread from Six hundred – The earth in the sky, above the clouds, and the Moon and Sun on earth.” And finally, concerning the “roles of the Man before the social and natural order, – The husband with baby on his lap and the armed woman, The daughter feeding the mother, and The student whipping the teacher – focusing the opposition between the social order and its reverse, alluding to the relations of subordination present in its hierarchy, by the reversal of the role of authority“15.
There is no doubt that we are dealing with a series of panels of great rarity in Portugal and in the World, representative of the new times of the century of lights and the domain of reason, as opposed to the hierarchical society of the old regime, which curiously danced and amused itself before jocular diatribes.