The mysterious armor that would have belonged to D. Manuel I is already in Lisbon. “Absolutely exciting”, says director of Jerónimos – Observador
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A “very special loan”, says the director of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. “It is the piece that, not linked to Portugal, best evokes the figure of D. Manuel and celebrates his legacy”, adds Dalila Rodrigues. Coming from the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, one of which it belongs, the long-awaited armor arrived in Lisbon on Friday at four in the afternoon. It traveled aboard a truck belonging to the logistics company Feirexpo and from this Monday it will be on display in an air-conditioned window in the Chapter Room, right next to the Jerónimos cloister, on the right side of the monument – until April 19, 2022.
It is an armor, or harness, which may have belonged to King Manuel I (1469-1521). The aura of mystery is great. From the outset, it is not known whether, in the beginning, it really left Portugal and what happened in the meantime to end up in France. Hence, specialists prefer to describe it as “the so-called armor of D. Manuel I”, to underline the uncertainty that persists. It is taken for granted that the ensemble has Italian mining, with German influence (“alla tedesca”). It was manufactured in Milan between 1510 and 1515 by the italian armorer Nicolaus de Silva (or Niccolò Silva).
“The link between this armor and King Manuel I is through the armillary sphere, the unique and unmistakable symbol of the monarch”, which is engraved in at least three areas of the piece, informs the exhibition’s gallery sheet that is now starts. However, a caveat is made: “It is not known whether this appointment results from having been the personal property of King Manuel I or from an offer from him.”
Dalila Rodrigues, who is also a professor of art history and a researcher from the Manueline period, adds: “There are no known documents or objective clues that indicate the relationship of the piece with the king, strictness forces us to speak of the armor known as D. Manuel. Also on Friday, using a magnifying glass and light, I identified them as armillary spheres. They’re fabulous, it’s absolutely thrilling to look at the piece. Note that an armillary sphere is a very strong clue. It is present everywhere in the Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro de Jerónimos, the two monuments that D. Manuel founded ”
D. Manuel I and art: a propaganda tool at the service of the king and the country
The presence in Lisbon of this long-awaited object is intended to evoke the 500th anniversary of the death of King Manuel I, which marks precisely the 13th of December. This Monday, in an initiative entitled “Luz a D. Manuel”, an evocative mass celebrated by the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Clemente, with the participation of the Polyphonos Group, takes place at 5:30 pm. At night, from 9 pm, the armor is finally presented and there is also a concert that includes a soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr and the lute player Ariel Abramovich, both Argentineans. Everything indicates that the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, will be present.
Since its incorporation in the Musée de l’Armée, for example in the 20th century, the armor will have been shown for the first time in Portugal in 1983, in an exhibition at the Torre de Belém. According to Dalila Rodrigues, this fact does not detract any meaning from the exhibition that is now organizes itself. More recently, between September 2016 and January 2017, the harness was exhibited at the “Orlando Furioso 500 Anni” exhibition in Ferrara (Italy).
“This is an opportunity to present a play and study it, bringing together specialists who know how to do it”, says the director. “Basically, a piece allows us to update and better understand the connection of King Manuel I to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, founded by him in 1496, at the beginning of his reign. The armor has the uniqueness of embodying the king’s presence. It seemed obligatory to bring it to the 500th anniversary commemoration”.
It is 1.79 meters high and 79 meters wide, register the place of the Musée de l’Armée. The source itself indicates that it was thought of as an object of war, although several elements, such as the upper part of the arms or the reinforcement of vision, say that it was also intended for “sports exercises”. According to the description offered by the room sheet, it is “an armor with additional and adaptable parts to a varied typology of uses, from field combat to participation in knightly tasks (tournaments, military and equestrian games, or stops ) ”. It is made of polished metal with gold engraving. “It has a Renaissance decorative grammar in which mythological and religious scenes are punctuated. It is absolutely fabulous, with an endless iconographic richness”, classifies the director of Jerónimos.
It is believed to have been purchased by the Musée de l’Armée between 1958 and 1964 from a great French armory collector, Georges Pauilhac. In turn, the collector had bought old Iberian collections, such as the Estruch y Cumella collection, from Barcelona, considering the hypothesis that the harness was included there. In the words of Dalila Rodrigues, the probable departure from Portugal, at an uncertain date, may have happened during the period of Spanish rule, during the French Invasions or after the Liberal Wars, when parts of the royal arsenal, considered obsolete, were sold.
According to the director, the coming of the piece to Lisbon has the support of the Millennium BCP Foundation, which is now a patron of the conservation of the Jerónimos cloister. “Without this support, none of this would have happened”, he adds. Contacts with the Parisian museum, located in the Les Invalides area, took a few months, despite interruptions determined by the pandemic, and involved the French embassy in Portugal. The researcher António Conduto Oliveira, responsible for the project connected “Rethinking the Middle Ages”, also participates in the project.
The laws, loves and arts of King Manuel I, the modernist king who united Portugal
Situated opposite the Tagus and also known as the Church of Santa Maria de Belém, the Jerónimos Monastery has been classified as a National Monument since 1907 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. It is where the tomb of King Manuel, in addition to the tombs of D. João III, D. Sebastião and Cardinal D. Henrique. In the main portal, there is a well-known representation of the king in the position of a praying figure, accompanied by Saint Jerome (in addition to the statues of D. Maria de Aragão and Castile and Saint John the Baptist), as indicates the data of the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage.
Dalila Rodrigues, 60, took over as director of Jerónimos and Torre de Belém in May 2019, succeeding Isabel Cruz Almeida, who directed the two monuments for 35 years – she was the oldest acting director of a national monument. Regarding the number of visitors to the two record-setting public spaces in Portugal as far as public monuments and museums are concerned, the director adds that this year, despite the declines, there was “a growing demand from June, especially in October and November, because of the arrival of cruises in the city”.
Last week there were huge queues at the entrance of the Jerônimos, characteristic of the period before the pandemic, with a focus on Spanish visitors. “When he publishes a circular with news about the new variant of the coronavirus, we immediately feel a drop of around 60%, but after 15 days the independents return”, points out Dalila Rodrigues.