The building of the Convento das Necessidades, in Lisbon, associated with a royal palace, is one of the various initiatives to support the modernization of science teaching practices in Portugal, in the mid-18th century.
The classes opened in the Summer of 1750, few years after the master tiler Bartolomeu Antunes and his nephew João Nunes de Oliveira formed a society and hired several painters to manufactured the tiles. They were carried out almost at the same time as those for the Jesuit Colleges of the Aula da Esfera (Sphere Class), in Lisbon (c. 1745), and the Espírito Santo [Holy Spirit], in Évora (1744-1749).
In the same convent, there was a missing House of Mathematics or, better, a modern Physics Classroom with several instruments, intended for public lectures, associated with the course of the influential professors João Batista and Teodoro de Almeida (1722-1804).
The implementation of this pioneering project, which experiments were performed for the delight of a small group of aristocratic guests, such as those carried out by the Habsburg Monarchy, was certainly influenced by the entourage of Queen D. Maria Anna of Austria.
Unfortunately damaged by water and later eliminated, the Physics Classroom had a ceiling decorated with paintings, where the Divine Sapience was represented accompanied by 28 figures from different Liberal Arts and eight allegories of virtues. In any case, the Francisco Pinto Pereira’s work, with the attribution of the origin of knowledge to the wisdom of God, repeated the recurrent matrix of the iconographic programs of libraries and academic rooms of this period.
The tile panels of the classes, currently spread over two rooms, have also suffered many alterations, and it is only possible to determine that the allegories of Sciences (Logic, Architecture, Botany) are accompanied by virtues (Hope, Faith, Constance, Sapience), one of the main ideas that define the humanistic pedagogy.
With a different path in comparison with Jesuit colleges, the frames of the panels include a wide range of ancient philosophers, historians and poets – Aristotle, Aristippus of Cyrene, Epicurus, Aeschines, Democritus, Cicero, Horace, Terence, Euripides, Virgil, Livy, Marcus Licinius Crassus, Martial, and Thucydides –, as if there was a wide opening to the philosophical eclecticism that characterizes the period.
From what we know of the composition of the society of the tilers, these panels were probably executed by the painter Joaquim de Brito e Silva, the same author who painted the panels of the Aula da Esfera.
MANGUCCI, Celso. “A estratégia de Bartolomeu Antunes, mestre ladrilhador do paço (1688-1753)” in Al-madan, n. 12, 2003, pp. 155-168. ISSN 0871-066X.