Franciscan convents and churches in the colonial period – Urbanism – Architecture – Plastic Arts

It is certain that the Franciscan presence in Brazil has been felt since the Discoveries, when Friar Henry of Coimbra, a member of Cabral’s expedition, celebrated the first Mass on April 22, 1500, as soon as the travelers landed in the cove they named Porto Seguro (1).

However, it was only in the last quarter of the 16th century that the Order of Friars Minor of St. Francis settled definitively on colonial soil.

In 1583, the third grantee of the captaincy of Pernambuco, Jorge de Albuquerque Coelho, petitioned the Minister General of the Franciscans in Portugal for the creation of the Custody of St. Anthony of Brazil, granted by royal charter of October 12 of that year and pontifical confirmation.

It was the time of the union of the Two Crowns (1580-1640) and the Catholic Spain of Philip II had interrupted the flow of trade between Portugal and the Calvinist Netherlands, which had settled sugar production in northeastern Brazil. Economic monopoly issues combined with religious issues threatened this territory from a possible Batavian invasion.

The establishment of monastic orders in the Brazilian colony, which began in 1549 with the Jesuits during the establishment of the General Government, intensified from then on (2).

Colleges, convents and monasteries meant not only centers of schooling and catechesis, but of religious militia, territorial protection and urban development.

The foundation of the first Franciscan convent (
Franciscan Convent of Olinda
) was decided in Olinda, the seat of the captaincy of Pernambuco, the most prosperous of the colony, due to the great concentration of sugar mills.
sugar mills
on its soil, numerically superior to Salvador, the capital of the colony.

Franciscan Convent of Olinda
Franciscan Convent of Olinda

The first Custos – the highest rank in the Franciscan hierarchy – was Friar Melchior de Santa Catarina (3), who left Portugal with eight religious on January 1, 1585, arriving in Olinda on April 12. 

(1) South of the present State of Bahia.

(2) The Carmelites arrived in 1585 and the Benedictines in 1595.

(3) Born in Rezende de Lamego. Custodian in Brazil from 1585 to 1588, he returned to Portugal, where he was Definitor of his Province.

The Custody had its Chapter House based first in the chapel of Our Lady of the Snows and then in the convent, which they built from the donation of resources and land made by a widow named Maria Rosa, a wealthy local inhabitant (4).

She became the first sister of the Third Order of St. Francis in Brazil (5), inaugurating the undeniable importance of the participation of lay religious brotherhoods with monastic orders, due to their social, economic, political and cultural representativeness in that society.

The Third Brothers promoted their own devotional chapel, which they situated perpendicular to the nave of the convent church.

Sometimes, attached to the convent, they even had another church built, called the House of Prayer, and other outbuildings (6).

This took place mainly in the larger cities, with the participation of the “white and notable” inhabitants who belonged to that confraternity.

For sixty-five years, the Custody of St. Anthony of Brazil was subordinate to the Province of St. Anthony of the Currents in Portugal.

It became independent in 1649, after papal authorization, and its seat was transferred to Salvador.

In 1657, the Custody was elevated to the rank of Province.

Two years later, on the occasion of its first Chapter, the Custody of Our Lady of the Conception was created, which began to cover the convents of the coastal area of the Southeast (Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo), dismembering those of the Northeast (Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe and Bahia).

The Custody of Our Lady of the Conception became a Province in 1675 and the Convent of St. Anthony in Rio de Janeiro was chosen as its seat.

She is currently based in São Paulo.

In two centuries, twenty-three Franciscan convents were built in Brazil, of which nineteen remain, thirteen of which are located in the northeast region (7).

(4) The widow already lived in a retreat with other women, among them D. Izabel. D. Cosma and D. Felippa de Albuquerque, daughters of Jerônimo de Albuquerque, brother-in-law of Duarte Coelho Pereira (the first grantee of Pernambuco). He donated the land in a deed drawn up on September 27 of that year.

(5) She took the habit of a Third Sister in an oratory dedicated to St. Roque, erected by a Franciscan friar before the foundation of the convent.(6) Gatehouse, cloister, consistory room, sacristy and library.

(7) Cited in chronological order of construction: Convent of São Francisco, in Olinda – PE (founded in 1585/rebuilt in the last third of the century). XVII); Convent of St. Francis, in Salvador – BA, (found. 1587/rec. 1686); Convent of St. Anthony, in Igaraçu – PE (found. 1588/rec. 1661); Convent of St. Anthony, in João Pessoa (ant. Paraíba) – PB, (found. 1589-90/rec. 1700-1710); Convent of St. Francis, in Vitória, ES (found. 1590/1); Convent of St. Anthony – RJ (found. 1606-7/rec. mid-century XVIII); Convent of Santo Antônio do Recife (found. 1606/rec. 1654); Convent of Senhor Santo Cristo, in Ipojuca – PE (found. 1606/rec. 1654); Convent of Santo Antônio, in Vila de São Francisco do Conde – BA (c. 2nd half of the sec. XVII); Convent of São Francisco, in Serinhaém – PE (found. 1630 / rec. 1654); Convent of Santo Antônio, in Santos, São Paulo (found. in 1639); Convent of Santo Antônio, in Cairu – BA (const. 1650 or 1654?); Convent of Nossa Senhora da Penha do Espírito Santo, in Espírito Santo (founded 1650); Convent of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in Itanhaém, São Paulo (1655); Convent of Santo Antonio de Paraguaçu or Iguape, in Santiago do Iguape, Bahia (const. 1658/now in a precarious state). 1658/now in a precarious state); Convent of São Cristóvão, in Sergipe (const. 1658 or 1693?); Convent of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, in Penedo, Alagoas (const. c. 1682 or 1689); Convent of São Francisco, in Marechal Deodoro (ant. Alagoa), Alagoas (const. 1660 or 1684); Convent of São Boaventura, in Itaboraí, Rio de Janeiro (1660/now in ruins); Convent of Bom Jesus da Coluna, in Rio de Janeiro (const. in 1705).

The National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) has just proposed the joint inscription of these thirteen convents on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The work presented in this seminar shows, in summary, the research we coordinated with this objective, in which the monuments were studied from the point of view of the History of Art and Architecture and their insertion with the urban.

Characteristics of Franciscan convents and churches in the colonial period

1. Urban planning

Like most religious orders in colonial Brazil, the Franciscans situated their convents and churches on elevations near the sea, inlets, lagoons or river mouths, imposing them as a prominent element and reference point in the local landscape and population, both for their symbolic value as representatives of a Church at the service of Portugal, but also as an element of protection against possible threats of foreign invasion.

However, they did so beyond the urban limits, in search of greater contact with nature, which the Order favored.

Almost all of the time the main façade was directed towards the city.

Thus, the church and the convent gatehouse, spaces of sociability, were turned towards the settlement and the cloistered area, a space for religious retreat, towards the natural landscape, guaranteed by the watercourse.

However, once they had settled in a given location, with their churches preceded by large churchyards, this presence promoted the opening of roads leading to the nucleus of the settlement.

In fact, the churchyards functioned as a transitional space between the sacred and profane environments, where religious and popular festivities were held, accentuating the scenographic characteristics of the convents.

In the former city of Parahyba (now the capital João Pessoa), the Convent and Church of Santo Antônio (8) represents one of the most complex and beautiful Baroque buildings in Brazil.

Convent and Church of St. Anthony and House of Prayer and cloister of the Third Order of St. Francis in João Pessoa
Convent and Church of St. Anthony and House of Prayer and cloister of the Third Order of St. Francis in João Pessoa

It was located far from the coast, but ended up becoming the very center of the town, from the churchyard transformed into a square, which it even named and from where processions depart to this day.

Currently the convent houses the
Museum of Sacred Art
of the city and promotes exhibitions of Popular Art.

In the present state of Pernambuco, the Franciscans built five more establishments: in
Igarassu
the Convent and Church of St. Anthony (9) was situated by the sea and faced the city.

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Igarassu, Pernambuco
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Igarassu, Pernambuco

It is undoubtedly the main historical monument of the municipality, now incorporated in the north coast of the metropolitan region of Recife.

On the site of the former novitiate, there is the Pinacoteca Museum, which houses one of the most representative collections of the colonial era.

In Olinda, the architectural complex formed by the Convent of São Francisco, the Church of Nossa Senhora das Neves and the Chapel of the Third Order of São Roque (10) was built on top of one of the seven hills on which the former seat of the Pernambuco captaincy developed.

(8) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: João Pessoa – PB: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio. Topographic Location: AA01/M025/P05/Cx.0290/P.1141. File No.: 0063-T-38.

(9) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: Igarassu – PE: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio. Topographic Location: AA01.

(10) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Olinda – PE: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio (or São Francisco). Topographic Location: AA01/M026/P02/Cx.0312/P.1219. File No.: 0003-T-38.

The building’s façade was directed towards the city and its path became a slope parallel to the waterfront that leads to the Carmo Convent, the São Bento Monastery, the Cathedral and the former Jesuit College.

The historic center that these monuments have formed is so renowned that in 1982 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In Recife– the capital of Pernambuco since 1838, due to commercial prosperity in the face of the decadence of the rural aristocracy of Olinda – the Franciscan building complex consists of the Convent and Church of Santo Antônio, and other attached dependencies, which belong to the Third Order of São Francisco das Chagas (11).

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Recife
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Recife

In these, the patron saint chapel stands out (known as the
Golden Chapel for its baroque beauty and exuberance
) and the House of Prayer.

The complex is located on a site considered privileged and of great importance in Pernambuco’s history – a square at the junction of the Capiberibe and Beberibe rivers.
Beberibe
where
Maurício de Nassau
built his Friburg Palace during the Dutch occupation.

Due to the nobility of this location, in the imperial period the churchyard of the convent church became the most important square in the city, where the Campo das Princesas Palace was built as the seat of government of the former province.

Princes' Field Palace in Recife
Princes’ Field Palace in Recife

See the History and Architecture of the Palácio do Campo das Princesas in Recife PE 

The convent and the square still hold a festival in honor of St. Francis, with a procession, mass, novena, and kermesse, which is a huge popular attraction.

Next to the Golden Chapel is the Franciscan Museum of Sacred Art, which houses one of the most precious artistic collections in Brazil.

Interior of the Golden Chapel in Recife
Interior of the Golden Chapel in Recife

In the municipality of Ipojuca, the Convent and Church of Santo Antônio (or São Francisco) (12) was located in an elevated area on the banks of the river of the same name.

On the occasion of its annual feast, on January 1, a large number of pilgrims are drawn to the church for the veneration of the patron image. In addition to liturgical celebrations, its churchyard serves as a stage for popular attractions.

The example of
Ipojuca
the Convent and Church of St. Anthony, in
Sirinhaém
(13) was located on the banks of the river of the same name and at the highest point of the town.

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Sirinhaém
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Sirinhaém

It is one of the main historical monuments of the city, considered one of the richest in traditions in the state.

As in Olinda, the Franciscan convent was part of a medieval Portuguese urban articulation, an aspect that remained intact until the end of the 20th century, delimited by palisades, moats and natural barriers and which, unfortunately, has been degraded by the disorderly occupation of its surroundings.

Its frontispiece collapsed in 1883 and was later rebuilt with several alterations.

The State of Alagoas has two Franciscan establishments. The first is the Convent and Church of St. Francis (or St. Mary Magdalene) (14), in the present-day municipality of Marechal Deodoro, built on the shores of the Manguaba Lagoon, a fishing depot, which economically sustains a good portion of the local population.

Convent and Church of São Francisco in Marechal Deodoro
Convent and Church of São Francisco in Marechal Deodoro

(11) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Recife – PE: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P01/Cx.0005/P.0024. File No.: 0310-T-41.(12) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Ipojuca – PE: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio (or São Francisco). Topographic Location: AA01/M026/P02/Cx.0312/P.1219. File No.: 0003-T-38.(13) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Sirinhaém – PE: Convent and Church of São Francisco. Topographic Location: AA01/M027/P01/Cx.0365/P.1402/03. File No.: 0145-T-38.(14) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Marechal Deodoro – AL: Convent and Church of São Francisco. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P01/Cx.0004/P.0018. File No.: 0426-T-50.

The monument (now a museum) and its surroundings are an important center of tourist attraction, public utility and ecology.

On its land were built the Educandário São José and one of the units of the Federal Center for Technological Education (CEFET).

The second is the Convento de São Francisco e Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos (15), in the municipality of Penedo, built on top of an escarpment that descends to the São Francisco River.

Convent of São Francisco and Church of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos in Penedo AL
Convent of São Francisco and Church of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos in Penedo AL

The churchyard, now transformed into a square, forms with other historic buildings of the city a set of great urban expression.

The center of convergence of socio-cultural activities, around it are the Paço Imperial (which housed D. Pedro II, on his visit to the city) and the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences.

In Sergipe, in the current city of
São Cristóvão
the former village of São Francisco, which was once the state capital, the Convent of São Francisco and its Church of Bom Jesus (16) stand out.

Convent of St. Francis in São Cristóvão SE
Convent of St. Francis in São Cristóvão SE

The complex was built in the upper part of the city, which is located near the mouth of the Sergipe River and is one of the main references of popular religiosity.

The old churchyard, now Praça de São Francisco, gathers a huge crowd during the feasts of Senhor dos Passos, as the climax of the meeting of the processions from the churches of Ordem Terceira do Carmo and Matriz.

The last four remaining Franciscan convents in northeastern Brazil are located in the state of Bahia.

In the capital Salvador, the architectural complex formed by the Convent and Church of São Francisco and the Church of the Third Order of São Francisco da Penitência (17) was built in the upper part of the city, in the square to which it gave its name.

Convent and Church of São Francisco in Salvador BA
Convent and Church of São Francisco in Salvador BA
Church of the Third Order of São Francisco da Penitência in Salvador BA
Church of the Third Order of São Francisco da Penitência in Salvador BA

Through a wide road, the monument joins the Terreiro de Jesus and the Sé Primaz do Brasil (former church of the Jesuit College) and, with these, constitutes an area of great cultural, religious and civic interest in the city center, where the main manifestations of popular traditions take place.

The Convent and Church of Santo Antônio, in the town of São Francisco do Conde (18), are located at the mouth of the Sergimirim River, which flows into Todos os Santos Bay.

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in the village of São Francisco do Conde BA
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in the village of São Francisco do Conde BA

This monument is one of the main tourist attractions of the recôncavo region, where the local population and neighboring municipalities such as Santo Amaro, Candeias and even Salvador converge.

The Convent and Church of Santo Antônio, in Paraguaçu (19) was built on the banks of the mouth of the river of the same name, which also flows into the Bahian Recôncavo.

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Paraguaçu BA
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Paraguaçu BA

Although the building is badly damaged – restoration work has been at a standstill since 2004 – the complex forms both a natural and cultural heritage site.  

(15) Noronha Santos/IPHAN Archive: Penedo – AL: Convent of Saint Francis and Church of Saint Mary of the Angels. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P01/Cx.0005/P.0024. Process No.: 0310-T-41.

(16) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: São Cristóvão – SE: Convent of São Francisco and Church of Bom Jesus. Topographic Location: AA01/M033/P06/Cx.0777/P.2898. File No.: 0303-T-41.

(17) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: Salvador – BA: Convent and Church of São Francisco. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P06/Cx.0059/P.0251. File No.: 0086-T-38.

(18) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: São Francisco do Conde – BA: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio dos Anjos. Topographic Location: AA01/M022/P02/Cx.0080/P.0357. Process No.: 0257-T-41

(19) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: Cachoeira – BA: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P02/Cx.0019/P.0074. Case No: 280-T.

As a monumental building isolated in the stunning landscape of the river mouth, it bears witness to the appreciation of the idea of contemplation, so dear to Franciscan thought.

The state of abandonment in which the monument and its archaeological site are found calls for an urgent action by the competent bodies to prevent its total destruction.

And the Convent and Church of Santo Antônio, in
Cairú
(20), stands on a hill, dominating the landscape of the island of the same name.

Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Cairú BA
Convent and Church of Santo Antônio in Cairú BA

Its churchyard is, to this day, the stage for the most important local religious festivals – that of Our Lady of the Conception and that of St. Benedict – to which a large contingent of faithful and tourists flock.

2. Architecture (21)

The first construction cycle Franciscan in Brazil was characterized by poor buildings, as initially advocated by the Order, but its primitive churches already had a tower and were always preceded by a porch, due to the climatic conditions of the colony (22), as shown in the painting from the time of the Dutch invasion, “Igaraçu”, of Frans Post (23).

Frans Post - The Church of Saints Cosme and Damian and the Franciscan Monastery of Igaraçu, Brazil - 1660.
Frans Post – The Church of Saints Cosme and Damian and the Franciscan Monastery of Igaraçu, Brazil – 1660.

The second cycle can be said to have been the splendor of Franciscan convent architecture in the northeast, a period that begins with the expulsion of the Dutch from the northeast in 1654 and continues until the mid-18th century.

This cycle corresponds to the period of great expansion and enrichment of the monastic religious orders in the colonial territory, accompanying the movement of the Crown of Portugal which, since the liberation of the eighty years of Spanish domination in 1640, had invested more and more in Brazil, even raising it to the condition of viceroyalty of Portugal and the Algarves.

Franciscan convents now had two floors, although the distribution of rooms followed the previous orientation: starting from the cloister, the epicenter of the building – a quadrangular courtyard, surrounded by open galleries, with a garden and a central fountain, as if to symbolize an edenic and mystical sense of existence, according to Franciscan thought.

In this spirit, the buildings that border it represent, on each side, a specific dimension of human life: the social, the animal, the intellectual and the spiritual.

The social dimension includes the Gatehouse, the Parlatory and the Chapter Room and Consistory. The first two, located next to the church area, open onto the cloister to serve as a meeting place for the secular and religious communities. For this reason, they require a decorative apparatus (24).

(20) Noronha Santos Archive /IPHAN: Cairu – BA: Convent and Church of Santo Antônio. Topographic Location: AA01/M021/P03/Cx.0013/P.0089. Case No.: 0258-T-41.21BAZIN, 1983: 136-194.

(22) Friar Francisco dos Santos was the author of the design for the first convent and church in Olinda and also for the convent and church of Santo Antônio in João Pessoa, Paraíba, in 1590. He lived for many years, participating in the order from its origins in the colony to the construction of the convents of Ipojuca and Serinhaém.

(23) 17th century – Shlesisches Museum, Breslau.(24) Altar, ceiling painting and tile ashlar.

The others are places of solemn assemblies and meetings of the conventual community and, as such, also require refined decoration (25).

The animal dimension includes the Refectory; the Kitchen, the Services and the Cells, the latter located on the upper floor and served by open galleries, above those of the courtyard.

The intellectual dimension consists of the Study and Workshop Rooms and, above all, the Library, a room distinguished by an elaborate doorway, rich bookshelves and pictorial decoration on the ceiling.

On the upper floor there is always a Belvedere, a contemplative space of nature par excellence.

The spiritual dimension side corresponds to the Church and Sacristy area. The church was always started by the chancel, then came the nave and the frontispiece was the final concern.

In the second building cycle, this corresponded, as a whole, to the principles of monumental architecture, with a more erudite layout and baroque function, as emphasized by the historian Alberto José de Souza, “due to its scenographic character, the agitation of its contours, its drama, the role that decoration plays in it. (…) The design began in the church of the convent of Cairu, by the Portuguese architect Friar Daniel de São Francisco”(26), who was also responsible for the design of the church of Paraguaçu”(27).

The vertical and horizontal sections of the two floors are marked by pillars and architraves made of stone. On the upper floor, a triangular pediment is replaced by one with a busy profile – supported by two voluted fins and topped with pinnacles – a decorative feature used since the Mannerist period to hide a gable.

On the lower floor, the porch gives way to a galilee with equal arcades in a perfect circle, integrated into the volume of the building.

Friar Jaboatão observes similarities in the convents of Recife and Ipojuca, according to him, both would have been traced by Master Gonsalves Olinda (28).

Most frontispieces have a single tower, set back from the façade.

With the exception of those of the churches of Salvador and São Francisco do Conde, both with two towers arranged on the same plane as the central body, following, like the Jesuit church of the College of Salvador, the typology of the erudite façades of late Mannerism in Portugal (29).

In some, the tops of the towers evolved from the pyramidal shape of the 17th century to the bulbous shape characteristic of the mid-18th century (30), when they were completed. Internally, the Franciscan churches followed the Jesuit pattern that came to Brazil: a single nave plan, a transept inserted in the base perimeter and a narrow and not very deep chancel.

(25) Altar in gilded wood carving, ceilings with figurative paintings, tiles and stone benches.

(26) Born in Penafiel, c.1605 or 1615 – Died in Recife, 1692. He came to Brazil as a young man and settled in Pernambuco where he became a friar in the Convent of Olinda. With the Dutch occupation in 1630 he moved to Bahia, where he taught philosophy and theology at the Franciscan convent in Salvador, where he held the positions of superior and was custodian. For his qualities, in 1640 he was chosen to negotiate the separation of the Brazilian Franciscan convents from the Province of Portugal, which was authorized by the Pope in 1647, giving rise to the creation of the first Franciscan Province of Brazil in 1657. He also designed the church of the convent of Santo Antonio de Paraguaçu, in the Recôncavo Baiano. See Souza, 2004: 40.

(27) Cairu, begun in 1654, is considered to be the church that had “the first erudite elevation built in Brazil that did not follow any Portuguese model” (…) “a compositional school that lasted more than a century and which, with half a dozen landmark buildings, constituted one of the culminations of this architecture”. See Souza, 2004: 40-41.

(28) Jaboatam, 1858, Vol. II, No 480: 477.

(29) Initiated with Felipe Terzi in the Augustinian church of São Vicente de Fora.(30) Churches of João Pessoa, Recife and Marechal Deodoro.

This houses the main altarpiece and two others that are co-lateral to the crossing arch.

Crossing the nave is the chapel of the Third Order, generally richly decorated.

Two aisles border the chancel; the one on the Gospel side is called the Via Crucis, since it contains, at floor level or on the upper floor, a pictorial or sculptural representation of the Passion Steps of Christ.

They lead to a large Sacristy, located at the back of the church, most often placed transversely so as to occupy the entire width of the nave.

The sacristy is highly symbolic as it houses priestly vestments and objects of worship. It contains one or two altarpieces in gilded wood carving, a ceiling with sacred paintings, large cabinets and chests made of carved wood.

In an adjoining space, it is always served by a monumental washbasin, carved in stone. At the back of the church nave is the Choir, guarded by a rich parapet above the narthex and directly accessible from the over-cloister gallery. It has an organ and a chancel, since singing and music are priorities in the Franciscan liturgical ritual.

In the convents there was always a fence, which delimited the land at the back. It was a large area, intended for the cultivation of orchards and vegetable gardens, water supply and also for leisure, isolation, meditation, prayer and physical activities of the religious.

3. Fine Arts

They are mainly represented by the richness of the interior of the churches and sacristies, made to impress.

The Franciscan artistic collection in northeastern Brazil consists of gilded woodcarvings, imagery (in wood or terracotta), ceiling paintings (in coffered or illusionistic forms), paintings, tiles, implements and chairs.

3.1 Hoist

It was mainly through the carving, notably through the altarpieces, that the interiors of these churches acquired much of their expressive vigor of sacred space, constituting an indispensable element and main adornment. We know that sculpture has always been recognized as one of the most legitimate plastic manifestations of Portuguese and Brazilian art, whose visual potential painting only managed to achieve in the 18th century (31).

3.1.1. The First Decorative Cycle

The oldest Franciscan altarpieces in northeastern Brazil certainly correspond to those developed during the final Mannerist phase or the transition to the Baroque in Portugal (32).

They were those built in the first decades of the 17th century for the Order’s original chapels. Unfortunately, only a few fragments of these Mannerist altarpieces remain, such as the base of a column in the church of the convent in Paraíba.

(31) CARVALHO, 1999: 55 and 58.

(32) SMITH,1962: 64

3.1.2 The Second Decorative Cycle

This cycle is part of the first phase of the Baroque in Portugal, a period that in the Metropolis spans from the mid-17th century to the first decade of the 18th century, and which in Brazil extends for about twenty more years.

It corresponds to the beginnings of the gold cycle. This period includes the carving of the Golden Chapel of the Third Order in Recife; the altarpiece of the chancel and some of the collaterals of the church of the Convent of Saint Francis in Salvador; the altarpieces of the chancel and sides of the church of the Convent of Saint Francis in Marechal Deodoro, and the altarpieces of the high altar and sides of the Chapel of the Third Order of Saint Francis in João Pessoa (33).

The carving is intensely gilded, “a color par excellence linked to God, its profusion, although seeking a manifestation of majesty and magnificence, should above all be understood as one of the most convincing processes for the sensory attraction of the believer” (34).

It develops opulent forms that often extend like vegetation over the walls and frames of coffered ceilings, where the painting is primarily confined.

The altarpiece structure is dynamic and scenographic, articulated in a single body supported by spiral columns, a movement that continues in the pediment in concentric archivolts and circumscribes a large central dressing room, destined to contain, in majesty, the devotional image of the altar.

The pediment’s clasp is usually topped with the emblem of the Order of Saint Francis. The ornamental motifs refer to Christian iconography, in a predominantly phytomorphic naturalistic vocabulary, such as the acanthus leaf (symbol of heroism) and the parra (Eucharistic wine), from which angelic figurines (messengers of divine love) and the pelican bird (blood of Christ) emerge (35).

3.1.3 The Third Decorative Cycle

During the period of King João V (1707-1750), the apogee of the absolute monarchy, when “Portugal was the gold of Brazil” (36), the Baroque taste of Roman import predominated in the carving decoration of Portuguese and Brazilian churches (37), which came from the workshop of the Palace of Mafra, which was being built, and in which Italian artists collaborated, under the direction of the Italianized German Ludovice.

This phase includes the side altarpieces of the convent church of Igarassu; the Chapter Room of the convent of Olinda; the main altarpiece of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, in Penedo (AL); the side altarpieces to the arch of the cruise (1741-1743) of the convent church of São Francisco, in Salvador (BA); the main and side altarpieces of the Chapel of the Third, in João Pessoa.

The structure of the composition emphasizes the architectural character, the dynamism, the scenographic treatment and introduces the large statuary, in imitation of Roman monuments.

(33) Among them, the Capela Dourada in Recife and the Igreja de São Francisco in Salvador stand out as two of the most magnificent examples of carved decoration and altarpieces to be found anywhere in Brazil.

(34) FERREIRA-ALVES, 1989: 183.35SMITH, 1962: 69-72.(36)FRANçA, 1965: 160.

(37) Notably under the influence of Bernini. See SMITH, 1962: 95-96.

The crowning, unlike its predecessor style, has a broken and open profile, and its decoration is totally independent of the idea of extending the movement of the supports.

3.1.4. The Fourth Decorative Cycle

It corresponds to the Rococo period, which in carved decoration is characterized by a precious and refined layout, using volutes in curved movements, counter-curves, twisted and frayed conchoids (the so-called rocailles), phytomorphic and floral stylizations (palms and feathers) and elements considered ‘exotic’, such as Chinese, Indian and Africanisms.

This shows an art that appropriated artistic values other than those of Western culture and that emphasized refinements and optical sensations of surface, enhanced by gilding the relief on a light background.

In the decoration of churches, the iconographic choice shows the intention to combine sacred symbols with profane ornaments.

Most of the carved decorations of the Franciscan temples in the Northeast from the mid-18th century to the first two decades of the 19th century used the Rococo style, but not in its “purity”, as in all colonial art of the period (38).

Baroque and neoclassical ornamental elements coexisted there, as shown by the altarpieces of the church of Nossa Senhora das Neves and the Chapel of São Roque in Olinda, the main altarpiece of the church of Santo Antônio in Recife and the main altarpiece of the church of Santo Antônio in Igarassu, the significant examples of the period.

This lighter and more delicate carving denotes the exhaustion of the gold cycle and the insertion into an art that sought its expression in the exquisite decoration of the European courtly palaces of the time (39).

3.2 Imagery – main invocations

Among the images that make up the Franciscan collection in the Northeast, the most prominent are those of Christ Crucified; those of Marian devotion – Our Lady of the Conception (the most frequent), of Sorrows, Piety and Rosary and, of course, that of the founder of the Order, St. Francis of Assisi (in the most frequent form of the Vision of Mount Alverne and the Wounds), and that of St. Anthony, the great disseminator of Franciscan doctrine and patron saint of Lisbon.

Also enthroned on Franciscan altars are the images of St. Anne Master, St. Joseph, St. Louis of France, St. Roch, St. Benedict, St. Cosme and Damian, St. Rose of Viterbo, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Elizabeth of Portugal. Whether in the restrained and hieratic form of Mannerism, dramatically expanded in the Baroque, or refined in the Rococo, all these images are of great doctrinal effect, either by the force they emanate in the representation of suffering, purity, the example of virtuous life, poverty and often martyrdom, a sanctification promoted by the Catholic Church, through the Counter Reformation, as a way by which the faithful could establish a link with the Divine.

(38) CARVALHO, 1989: 62-64.

(39) SMITH, 1962: 129.

3.3 Painting

Although painting did not enjoy the same prestige as architecture and sculpture in the first decades of colonial times, it became a visual expression notably in the 18th century, the golden age of Baroque production in these lands, in isolated paintings, parietal panels and monumental ceiling linings.

The pictorial genre that best expressed colonial religious themes was that of church ceilings, coffered ceilings or illusionistic perspectives.

The coffered ceilings feature figurative panels depicting the lives of saints, framed by sculptural work that is related to that of the carving.

Its period of greatest production was at the beginning of the 17th century.

Although they are works of lesser erudition compared to illusionist paintings – since they have undeveloped perceptual resources and a simplified palette – they were effective in their catechetical purpose, providing multiple opportunities to illustrate the teachings addressed to the congregation, as well as identifying it with the scenes portrayed.

And beautiful aesthetic effects resulted, when well combined with the carving.

The group of Franciscan buildings in northeastern Brazil shows important examples of these two types of painting. Among the paintings in coffered ceilings, we highlight the following: in Marechal Deodoro (AL), the ceiling of the chancel of the Church of São Francisco; in Cairu (BA), the ceiling of the probable chapter room of the Convent of Santo Antônio; in Salvador (BA), the ceilings of the nave, sacristy and chapter room of the Church and Convent of São Francisco; in São Francisco do Conde (BA), the ceilings of the sacristy and lower choir of the Church of Santo Antônio; in João Pessoa (PB), the ceilings of the chancel and the chapel of the Third Order of the Church of Santo Antônio; in Igarassu (PE), the ceilings of the galilee and the sub-chorus of the Church of Santo Antônio; in Olinda (PE), the ceilings of the nave, the sacristy, the chapter room, the chapel of the Third Order and its respective chancel of the Church and Convent of Nossa Senhora das Neves; in Recife (PE), the ceiling of the chapel of the Third Order of São Francisco das Chagas (Golden Chapel).

On the other hand, perspectival illusionist painting guaranteed a certain autonomy to pictorial art, giving it a separate spectacle within churches. This technique, developed by the Jesuit Andrea Pozzo in his treatise Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum, 1693-1700, creates effects of a spatial continuum in which the real merges into the unreal.

The trompe-l’oeil promotes the sensation of elongation of the architectural space and the tearing of the support, opening to a celestial atmosphere to represent the ascension of saints, angels and other divine figures.

In Portugal this technique arrived in 1710, introduced by the Italian Vicenzo Bacarelli on the ceiling of the sacristy of the Lisbon church of São Vicente de Fora.

But there it has always coexisted with the painting placed in the central panel, as an integral part of ceiling painting in perspective, a phenomenon also present in colonial Brazil.

This prevents the progress of illusory painted architectures, with no escape to infinity, where the question of compartmentalized space still arises.

This did not mean that the painter was unskilled, as historian Magno Morais Mello rightly points out, but was the result of “a cultural and artistic experience, of traditional language and taste, stemming from the 17th-century cartouches, which aimed to communicate directly and frontally and to accentuate the space of finitude, humanist” (40).

Illusionist painting came to manifest itself in Franciscan churches in the northeast as early as the second half of the 18th century. Several works (41) are included in this genre, and some artists from this period have had their work duly registered or identified.

We quote: José Pinhão de Matos, a Portuguese painter active in Recife and Salvador in the first half of the eighteenth century, of whom it is known that he had paintings in the Dourada chapel and in the church of the Franciscan of Terceiros in Salvador (42).

José Rabello Vasconcellos, a painter active in Pernambuco in the first half of the 18th century and not yet properly studied. He made, signed and dated (1749) the monumental painting of the ceiling of the nave of the Church of the Convent of Santo Antônio de Igarassu (43).

Domingos da Costa Filgueira, a painter with a satisfactory command of the perspective painting technique who was active in Bahia in the second half of the 18th century, who also produced works for this church, such as the ceiling of the first floor, which has disappeared, and paintings on the panelled ceiling of the secretary’s office, which still exist.

José Joaquim da Rocha (1737-1807), from Bahia, the greatest exponent of Northeastern painting in the colonial period.

Between 1766 and 1769, the painter was in Paraíba, where he made the illusionist painting “The Glorification of the Franciscan Saints” on the ceiling of the nave of the church of the Convent of Saint Anthony.

This achievement signified his ascension to the master’s degree, as he began to present himself upon his return to Bahia.

The historian Carlos Ott attributed several other panels to him, including the illusionist panel on the lining of the doorway of the Convent of Saint Francis in Salvador, made shortly after the work in Paraíba, but with very similar characteristics and iconography (44).

José Teófilo de Jesus, a favorite disciple of José Joaquim da Rocha, with a period of training in Portugal, executed, between 1802 and 1845, several panels and paintings for the Church of the Third Franciscans of Salvador (45).

Antônio Joaquim Franco Velasco (1780-1833), another disciple of José Joaquim da Rocha. Shortly before his death, he began painting the ceiling of the nave of the Church of the Third Order of St. Francis of Penance in Salvador.

(40) MELLO, 1998: 15-18.

(41) The ceilings of the nave and lower choir of the Church and Convent of São Francisco, in Marechal Deodoro (AL); ceilings of the nave, chancel and chancel of the Third Order of the Church and Convent of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, in Penedo (AL); ceilings of the nave, sacristy and lower choir of the Church and Convent of Santo Antônio, in Cairu (BA); ceilings of the gatehouse and side chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Church and Convent of São Francisco, in Salvador (BA); ceiling of the nave of the Church of Santo Antônio, in São Francisco do Conde (BA); ceilings of the nave, sacristy and choir of the House of Prayer of the Third Order of the Church and Convent of Saint Anthony, in João Pessoa (PB); ceilings of the nave and sacristy of the Church and Convent of Saint Anthony, in Igaraçu (PE); ceiling of the nave of the Church of Saint Anthony, in Ipojuca (PE); ceilings of the gatehouse and lower choir of the Church and Convent of Nossa Senhora das Neves, in Olinda (PE); ceiling of the aisle of the Via Crucis of the Church and Convent of Santo Antônio, in Serinhaém (PE); ceiling of the Chapel of the Third Order of the Church and Convent of São Francisco, in São Cristóvão (SE).

(42) SERRãO, 2000: 283.

(43) Church of Santo António de Igarassu – Conservation and Restoration, 2000: 39-44.

(44) The panels that adorn the chests of the sacristies of the Franciscan convents of Igaraçú, São Francisco do Conde and Cairú. See Ott, 1982: 10-67.

(45) In 1845, he painted other pictures for the same church, namely “St. Francis”, “St. Dominic”, “St. Elizabeth of Portugal”, “St. Louis, King of France”, “St. Elizabeth of Hungary” and “St. Louis”.Carlos Ott reports that the pictures painted in 1845 were intended for altars. They were, however, later replaced by images of saints and kept in a storeroom of the Order. See OTT, 1982: 104, 114.

Libório Lazaro Lial, responsible for the painting of illusionist intent on the ceiling of the Church of the Convent of Nossa Senhora dos Anjos in Penedo, duly signed and dated (1784).

Veríssimo de Souza Freitas, a painter who continued the work begun by Velasco.

He was responsible for the illusionist painting of the ceiling of the nave of the Church of the Convent of São Francisco do Conde, clearly inspired by the painting that José Joaquim da Rocha had done in the Church of the Third Order of São Domingos in Salvador. José Eloy, a painter active in Pernambuco in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

He is the author of the painting signed and dated (1807) of the lower ceiling of the choir of the Church of São Francisco de Marechal Deodoro.

3.4. Tiles

The vast majority of the art of
Portuguese tile art in Colonial Brazil
can be found in convents and religious confraternities.

His panels cover the different production cycles, from repetitive to figurative, single or narrative.

And, of course, the latter favor themes linked to biblical and hagiographic scenes, whether from the Baroque era of the Great Masters (1700-1720) and the Great Anonymous Workshops until the mid-18th century, or from the creation of the Royal Ceramic Factory of Rato, in 176746, which led to large-scale production.

More rare are depictions of mythological, allegorical and hunting scenes. Among the tile sets, the Franciscan convents in the northeast stand out numerically (47).

These panels mainly decorate main chapels, naves, domes, narthexes, sacristies, cloister courtyards, chapter rooms, staircase landings, corridors and refectories.

In this regard, schools and authors could be identified, notably from the time of the Masters, such as the school of Antônio de Oliveira Bernardes, in the Holy Supper of the refectory of the Convent of São Francisco, in Salvador (BA), and in the sacristy of the Convent of Nossa Senhora das Neves, in Olinda; Policarpo da Silva Bernardes, in the churchyard of the Convent of Santo Antônio, in João Pessoa (PB); Antônio Pereira Ravasco, in the Golden Chapel of Recife (PE) (48); Valentim de Almeida, in the raised cloister of the Convent of Salvador (BA) and in the chancel of the Convent of Cairu (BA); a naive painter, identified by the acronym PMP, in the sacristy of the Convent of São Francisco, in Salvador (BA), and in a corridor of the Convent of Nossa Senhora das Neves, in Olinda (PE); and the workshops of Bartolomeu Antunes and Nicolau de Freitas in the chancel, transept, first floor cloister of the Convent of São Francisco in Salvador (BA) (49) and in the chapter room of the Convent of Santo Antônio in Recife (PE).

(46) By the diligence of the Marquis of Pombal. As part of his project to rebuild Lisbon, destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.

(47)CAVALCANTI, 2006.(48) SERRãO, 2000: 277-229.(49) The tiles in the chancel are signed and the others attributed.

4. Final considerations

We have raised certain issues that, in our view, justify the inclusion of these thirteen Franciscan convents as a whole as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

From an urban point of view, they all remain foci of historical reference and socio-cultural interaction on the sites where they were built.

In terms of architecture, its buildings are a group that presents some unprecedented solutions in the composition of the frontispieces, observed from the second half of the 17th century.

This novelty is essentially characterized by the portico with arcades opening onto the churchyard and the pediment topped by volutes and counter-volutes, most often with the bell tower set back.

In the art of carving, that of the Franciscan churches of the Northeast, besides being an important source of stylistic analysis, allows a better understanding of the history and culture of colonial times.

It is known that Franciscan convents were always built in Brazil at the request of the community, which was supposed to support them.

Thus, the wealth presented by the interiors of the temples, notably those of the Third Orders, to compete with the conventual ones, can be explained by the fact that its great development begins precisely with a Restored Portugal and with great investment in its prosperous and promising Vice Kingdom.

The period of greatest decorative richness and profusion, from the beginning to the middle of the 18th century, corresponds to the insertion of the Baroque in the Luso-Brazilian world, resulting from the discovery of precious minerals in the Gerais region and the great participation of lay brotherhoods as the main commissioners.

The same can be applied to the study of imagery. As for the painting, whether in parietal panels, coffered ceilings or illusionist perspectives, the remaining ensemble is undoubtedly an important visual document, especially of the Baroque period in our lands.

Finally, the set of tile panels of the Franciscan convents of the northeast is one of the most significant collections of art in Brazil, whose iconographic program is an important source of understanding, not only of the history of this Order, but also of the Baroque and Rococo period in the Luso-Brazilian world.

For all these reasons, there is an urgent need for greater care in the preservation, restoration and revitalization of this valuable heritage and its interaction in the cultural context of contemporary Brazilian society.

For preservation presupposes safeguarding the past through a project of building the present simultaneously with the idea of the future.

Franciscan convents and churches in the colonial period – Urbanism – Architecture – Plastic Arts

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