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Gilded woodcarving in Portugal is, along with the tile, one of its most original and rich artistic expressions. It is usually used in the internal decoration of churches and cathedrals, but also as part of the decoration of noble halls in palaces and large public buildings, there existing an impressive collection of altarpieces in Portuguese churches. Starting during the Gothic era, it assumes nationalistic character in the course of the seventeenth century and the maximum splendour in the reign of King D. Jo?o V. In the nineteenth century it loses its meaning, becoming a copy of past models to, finally, disappear with the end of the revival era. Gilded woodcarving is a very impressive and quite simple way to turn a plain space into a place of luxury and ostentation, because wood is easily carved and covered with gold leaf. The result is a cheaper and more impressive work than that achieved with other technically more demanding types of decoration, such as sculpture or painting, and it reflects the taste of the time. The cost of the decorative structure is cheaper than the price to pay for the same type of work in another kind of decoration (except for the tile) because the amount of gold required is relatively small. It does not call for an artist with the specific training of a sculptor or a painter (however, most of their work turns out to have the same quality), and the final result is surprisingly good and reasonably priced. The forms are copied and adapted from decorative architecture and inspiration taken from the books circulating in all of Europe, that disseminated the news from the art world, but during the seventeenth century a typically Portuguese vocabulary is developed. After being transported to the empire, it adapts to the local traditions and artists capacities, as is visible in Brazil or in India mainly in Goa. It is very common for woodcarving artists to take commissions from regional orders to guarantee the activity of their workshop, sometimes making several related works in a specific geographical area. Truly remarkable examples have reached us, confirming the prestige of the creators of several magnificent altarpieces from northern to southern Portugal. There are also many examples in colour, white or natural wood, but without the visual impact of the gilded ones. The golden altar was almost magic to the senses, giving an idea of holiness and richness unattainable in normal people lives. Their association with painting or the tile allows more complex decorative programs thus increasing or decreasing the price of the contract.
1 Gothic, and Renaissance Manueline
3 The Baroque
4 The Rococo
6 See also
Gothic, and Renaissance Manueline
The evolution of the woodwork and gilded woodcarving in Portugal has had a very interesting journey. It starts during the Gothic period following architectural models, taken mainly from sculpture and goldsmithery, using the decorative vocabulary of the style. Gothic arches, pinnacles, columns, etc., are associated with sculpture or painting, without standing on their own as will later be done. It a wooden structure, with the gold carving kept for the architectural part of the achine and leaving the rest of the elements either in plain wood or covered with colour. In spite of the small number of altar-pieces which have reached our days, the overwhelming majority was replaced during the Baroque, it is known that they followed the international taste, such as the main altarpiece in the old Cathedral of Coimbra (the only city in Portugal boasting 2 cathedrals).
The Manueline, too, follows the vocabulary of architecture, using mainly the portal structure, giving great importance to the heraldic, armillary sphere, Cross of Christ, and some sculpted naturalistic elements. The main examples, altarpiece and Choir Stalls, from Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar and Monastery of Alcoba?a, have disappeared, but there remains the monumental Choir Stalls from Santa Cruz Monastery in Coimbra. The wood gilt follows the structure of northern Europe, fixed with the Portuguese aesthetic at the time, made by the Flemish master Machim.
The Renaissance continues to follow the architectural decoration, but there is no longer the issue of using golden carving, associating painting and sculpture, and following the classic imaginary, widely known from books of the time. Again the carved decoration in wood is very close to the intended stone forms, visible in portals, tombs or even in goldsmithery. The existence of a large altarpiece in stone or painting did not allow the development of the woodcarving as an autonomous form of expression, keeping it as a decorative art, in support of more erudite expressions. It is necessary to wait for Mannerism to develop the necessary conditions for autonomous gilded woodcarving to...(and so on)
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