Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Although I decided that the Namban screens should be the primary iconography source for this story, it has little value if it can’t be compared with other contemporary sources.
The screens have some details difficult to interpret, like decoration in clothing and armament, although, as I wrote before, in general things fit where they should, so we may assume they are the fruit of direct observation and not some fashionable fancy of the artist.

The second source I chose to confront the screens with is a series of paintings about the life of S. Francisco Xavier in the church of S. Roque, in Lisboa (I found, besides the entry on Wikipedia about this church, the official site of the museum and an interesting blog with a post on the subject where you can see the paintings in color – the images in this blog are exclusively black and white).

Both are usually dated from the first two decades of the 17th century (although the paintings are probably more recent than the screens, but this is just a guess). The screens are a much richer source of information than the paintings, since these are more conventional when representing the Portuguese.
The artist (the main artist, at least) of the paintings took the trouble of documenting himself about the time and places of the events it represents, some 60 to 80 years before his time. He possibly had access to pieces of wardrobe still extant in his own time, and tried to compose a plausible reconstruction of the events, so we must be very careful when dating them.
Some, like the suits of the sailors in two of the saint’s most represented miracles, are typically first half of the 16th century (compare one of the paintings and the notes I took from them, bellow), in some paintings the elements don’t seem to fit well and look more like a compromise between the fashions of both epochs, and others (like the painting representing the saint lying dead, which looks like a detailed account of fashionable devout Portuguese from the time of the artist, rich and not so rich) simply drop the chronological concerns.

Comparing details from those paintings with ones from the screens and with some more pieces of information may take us to interesting conclusions in future posts.

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