Breaking News

Decoding history: Of Old Goa and viceroys

Under the Old Goa  Revelation Project,  Portuguese-based  professor and historian, Fernando Antonio Baptista

Pereira and conservator and restorer, Teresa Teves Reis, and team have unravelled new information  about the viceroys’ portrait  collection at Old Goa.  They share their findings  with NT BUZZ


With its majestic edifices dating back to centuries, Old Goa is a haven for history lovers. And the Archaeological Museum of India, located in the Convent of St Francis of Assisi further narrates the rich history of this tiny state. Among its many displays is the Viceroy’s Portrait Gallery, documenting the lineage of Portuguese viceroys and governors from the 15th century to the 20th century.

“This is a very important collection because there is no other gallery in the world which covers five centuries ie from the 16th century right up to 1961,” says professor and historian, Fernando Antonio Baptista Pereira from Portugal. “Also, most of these are oil paintings on wood which is absolutely unique. While you do find Christian art in Goa, Daman and Diu in this style, this is a unique set of oil paintings on wood with portraits,” he says. This, he continues, is important because in Europe, after the 16th century, all the paintings were done on canvas rather than wood. But because of the humid condition in Goa, wood was preferred.

A historian (PhD) in art sciences and techniques specialised in museology and an associate professor in the Faculdade de Belas-Artes (Universidade de Lisboa) where he teaches art history, museology and museography and research methodologies, Pereira has coordinated several national and international museological and museographic projects, art catalogues and curated several exhibitions.

Since 2017, Pereira and conservator and restorer Teresa Teves Reis, (currently a PhD student in Fine-Arts, in the Faculdade de Belas-Artes, from Universidade de Lisboa, supported by the doctoral scholarship HERITAS- Heritage Studies), have been working closely on examining this art collection and the secrets that lie therein.

“It all began with a good friend of ours, historian Miguel Mira Mateus, who earlier worked on restoring the Chapel of Our Lady of Mount in Old Goa and another chapel in Kochi, both of which were sponsored by Fundacao Oriente. He was also the first person to try and develop a project for the conservation of this collection. After he passed away we kept at his mission since 2002,”
says Reis.

In 2017, they officially developed this into the Old Goa Revelations Project and received approval from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to be able to come and study it.

“We won a grant from the Portuguese foundation, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. The foundation considered this project to be innovative, especially as it was a collaborative project between Portugal and India, including not only the material examination of the paintings but also the training of Indian officials from ASI to perform the same kind of examinations,” says Pereira.

In January, a team of eight people including those associated with the Laboratório HERCULES and Laboratório José de Figueiredo brought in instruments weighing from Portugal for a period of three weeks. And a team of 10 Indian officials, all chemistry graduates, were trained to understand how to deal with these instruments and how to get information from the paintings using these instruments.

“The aim was to understand what these instruments can inform us about the paintings because you cannot preserve anything without studying it,” says Pereira. And while viewers can see only one layer of the paintings, there are several others beneath it, he says. Thus, the idea was to understand which layers were lying there, which could then inform future actions towards preservation and conservation of the collection.

While they focused on 15 paintings, they minutely examined around eight of these. “It was a very important project because it showed that this is a shared history between Portugal and India. It was thus important to join together the knowledge in order to get more information,” says Pereira.

And what they discovered was that each layer showed a different restoration, while also revealing interesting information about the change in costume, court of arms, poses, etc, over the years. They were also able to get a better idea into the authorship of these paintings.

And different periods have different artists. The first set of 13 portraits for instance was commissioned by Viceroy Joao de Castro. They were sketched by Gaspar Correia, the Portuguese chronicler who had arrived in Goa with Afonso de Albuquerque. These were then handed over to a local artist to paint. “Unfortunately the name of the local artist is not mentioned. But later sources speak about an Indian painter of miniature art tradition that later converted to Christianity on the eve of his death. He was said to have been baptised as Constantine because the viceroy of that time was Dom Constantino de Bragança who wanted to be his godfather,” says Pereira.

Many other artists and their works followed over the years. Chief among these were the ones done in the 17th century by Manuel Godinho de Eredia, who was an important cartographer of Portuguese-Malay descent. In 1825, 47 paintings were said to have been restored by a Margao-based painter called Camilo. The restoration of the remaining paintings was then ordered by Jose Vieira da Fonseca in 1838.

Also noteworthy was the restoration work done by a Portuguese military man Manuel Gomes da Costa (who later went on to become the 15th president of the Portugal Republic) who had a way with water colours. “He decided to harmonise all the paintings to give them a brand new look, and to suit the aesthetics of that time ie during the Romantic Period, he darkened all the backgrounds,” says Pereira.

The later paintings were done on canvas, as there were then conditions available to preserve them accordingly. “All these were on display at the Viceroy’s Palace in Old Goa which no longer exists today,” says Pereira.

In fact, the team has also looked into learning more about the palace, how long it lasted, and the journey of the paintings since then. “The palace began to fall into ruins in 1812 and was then totally demolished in 1830. The paintings then came to the Adil Shah Palace in Panaji which became the new governor’s palace, and stayed there till the end of the 19th century,” says Pereira. These were then moved to Old Goa in a new building close to St Cajetan Church which was being planned as a museum.

However, they then moved back to the Adil Shah Palace later. It was only after Liberation that the paintings then shifted to the Convent of St Francis of Assisi where they are today.

It is also important to note that some of the portraits were taken in the 1950’s to Lisbon, to be restored. After Goa’s Liberation though, they did not return. And it was these paintings that were first studied deeply, layer by layer. This same methodology has now been replicated with the paintings studied here in Goa by Pereira, Reis, and the team.

“We are also working with the ASI museum in order to get a new display with all the information using new technologies so that people can learn more about these with their smartphones by scanning the QR codes. You can always keep updating the information, add animation, etc. We are also looking at making platforms with written printed matter so that people who do not have smart phones can also read and learn,” says Pereira.

And the team is looking at doing a follow up project soon. “The ASI has shown great interest in the conservation part. And as they are now used to working with these types of art, we hope to follow up with them with regards to the methodology of the conservation, and how this could be adapted to this type of climate and also train some officials to perform these kinds of treatments,” says Pereira.

Check Also

A virtual conclave for students from May 23

DCT’s Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar will host a Students’ Webinar Series ‘Conclave …