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The Twelve Knights of England in the Gardens of the Marquis de Fronteira

The gardens of the Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira, in Lisbon, form a unique set that combines sculpture, tiles, and cladding to celebrate the triumph of the heroes of the Portuguese Restoration Wars (1640-1668) and the establishment of the new Bragança dynasty.

The gardens of the Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira, in Lisbon, form a unique set that combines sculpture, tiles, and cladding to celebrate the triumph of the heroes of the Portuguese Restoration Wars (1640-1668) and the establishment of the new Bragança dynasty.

The large balcony of the kings, which allows a wonderful view over the gardens, is also a gallery of the history of Portugal. Formed by the sequence of royal busts, they tell us the history of the birth of the nation until the delicate political moment of the regency of D. Pedro II. The main objective was to erase the time of the Spanish annexation, and it did not make sense to have the portraits of the monarchs of the Iberian Union period.

The walkway starts in the west tower, with the bust of Count D. Henrique de Borgonha, father of the first king of Portugal, and ends with the portrait of Nuno Álvares Pereira, the military hero responsible for the resounding victory of Aljubarrota, in 1385. This famous battle dictated the end of the king of Castile’s pretensions.

Equestrian portrait of D. João Mascarenhas, c. 1670. © Teresa Verão.

Above, in the beautiful arches of the tank, twelve knights are depicted on the tiles. As the poet Luís de Camões sang in the Lusíadas, they traveled to England, at the request of the Duke of Lencastre, to defend the honor of the other twelve maidens. They form a mythical honor guard that represents the knightly spirit of the Portuguese aristocracy.

Gardens of the Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira, Lisbon.
Gardens of the Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira, Lisbon. © CM.

As is known, the political moment was delicate, and, in addition to the war, D. Pedro II, concerned about the impossibility of his brother D. Afonso VI leaving descendants and guaranteeing the future independence of the kingdom, had waged a coup d’état. For his participation in the military campaigns in Alentejo and his political support, João Mascarenhas was awarded the title of Marquis of Fronteira. On the tiles, both he and his son are portrayed alongside the twelve knights.

It is also possible to note that the gardens were ready for the wedding celebration of the second marquis, D. Fernando Mascarenhas, with D. Joana Leonor, daughter of the Counts of Ataíde, in 1672.

Despite the naivety of the pictorial representation, it is one of the most important tile sets made for the palaces of Portugal, in a demonstration of the coherence that presided the formulation of this type of iconographic programs. In this case, it is remarkable that the architecture of the garden, like the ephemeral constructions erected to celebrate royal entrances, is a mere support for the discourse of images that celebrates the triumph of love and peace.

ESSENTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

NEVES, José Cassiano. The palace and gardens of Fronteira: seventeenth and eighteenth century Portuguese style. 3rd rev. ed. by Vera Mendes and Fernando Mascarenhas. Photography by Nicolas Sapieha. Lisboa: Quetzal Editores, 1995. ISBN 978-0935748987.

Lisbon, Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira

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