Our Lady of Pietà
Machado de Castro National Museum
Sculptor: Frei Cipriano da Cruz (1645, Braga–1716, Braga); painter and gilder: Manuel da Costa Pereira
Carved wood, gilded and polychrome, with chisel chasing; sgrafitto and embroidery applied to resin-wax.
H: 137 cm; w: 152 cm; d: 64.5 cm
Portuguese Baroque/Benedictine conventual sculpture
Church and college of S. Bento, Coimbra
Sculpture ensemble belonging to an altarpiece structure
With a preference for sculpture of enormous dimensions that entirely occupy the grand gilded altarpieces of the period, Frei Cipriano da Cruz is considered to be the most extraordinary representative of the National Baroque style.
His sculpture was generally based on models that circulated throughout Europe and can be considered within the context of other depictions of the Crucifixion and Passion of Christ. A monk-sculptor, the Pietà is one of Frei Cipriano's greatest achievements. It exemplifies a theme widespread in Portuguese art in the 16th and 17th centuries, meeting most of the essential Tridentine ideals.
The Pietà belongs to an ensemble of pieces made by Frei Cipriano for the S. Bento Church, which belonged to the college of the Benedictine order in Coimbra and was demolished in 1932.
This ensemble features anatomical details that are typical of Frei Cipriano, in particular the hands and faces. In the Pietà Christ's hands are rough with square-shaped finger nails. His face is framed by abundant curly hair; the S-shaped curls are also present in the beard. The Virgin displays a heavy look; she has high symmetrical eyebrows, a long triangular-shaped nose, and thin defined lips.
The heavy and pyramidal structure of the Pietà is accentuated by the drapery: the red, blue and gold cloak that completely wraps the figure. The drapery is notable in that its decorative motifs correspond with textiles of the period – elaborate brocades and oriental silks. The drapery and embroidery, generally designated as “upholstery”, were pre-made in resin-wax and were applied to the figure later after painting and finishing.
The motif of the artichoke particularly stands out. It imitates the three-bordered brocade of Spanish and Italian origin and is strategically placed on the Virgin's knee to have the greatest visual impact.
According to recent research (Alcoforado and Le Gac, 2003) Manuel da Costa Pereira, who was responsible for painting and gilding the Pietà, often worked with other painters. Further research about them will bring us closer to understanding the originality of Frei Cipriano da Cruz's sculpture.
With a preference for sculpture of enormous dimensions that entirely occupy the grand gilded altarpieces of the period, Frei Cipriano da Cruz is considered to be the most extraordinary representative of the National Baroque style. The Pietà represents one of his greatest achievements.
Church and college of S. Bento, Coimbra
Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro
Archive documents: carving and gilding contracts
By transfer as a consequence of the extinction of the religious orders.
Smith, R. C., Frei Cipriano da Cruz, Escultor de Tibães. Elementos para o estudo do Barroco em Portugal, Barcelos, 1968.
Moura, C., “Uma poética da refulgência: a escultura e a talha dourada”, História da Arte em Portugal, VIII, Lisbon, 1986.
Moura, C., “Frei Cipriano da Cruz Sousa”, Dicionário da Arte Barroca em Portugal, ed. J. Fernandes Pereira and P. Pereira, Lisbon, 1989.
Alcoforado, A., Le Gac, A., Frei Cipriano da Cruz em Coimbra, Coimbra, 2003.
Alcoforado, A., “Imagens e símbolos esculpidos”, Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro-Roteiro, Lisbon, 2005, pp. 46–68.
Copyright images: Divisão de Documentação Fotográfica/ Instituto dos Museus e da Conservação, I.P.
Ana Alcoforado "Pietà" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=object;BAR;pt;Mus11_A;14;en
Prepared by: Ana AlcoforadoAna Alcoforado
NAME: Ana Maria
AFFILIATION: Machado de Castro National Museum, Coimbra
TITLE: Museum Director
A History graduate, Ana Maria Alcoforado is Director of the Machado de Castro National Museum in Coimbra and Curator of the Sculpture collection since 1989. Her research and publications focus on Portuguese sculpture.
Translation by: Lili Cavalheiro, Cristina CorreiaCristina Correia
AFFILIATION: Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon and MWNF
TITLE: Senior Teacher, Local Co-ordinator and Vice-President of MWNF
Cristina Correia is a History graduate and, since 1985, a Senior Teacher of History at the Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon where she also lectures in Portuguese Language and Culture for non-native speakers. From 1987 to 1998 she was involved with youth affairs, primary prevention and the Camões Institute. She is Vice-President and Local Co-ordinator (Portugal) for MWNF.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 17