In the Misericórdia de Évora Church, the decorative program combines the gilded woodcarvings with tiles and oil canvases to create a trompe-l’œil architecture, full of symbolic allusions. Represented in the gilded relief of the wood, the bunch of grapes and the phoenix express the sacrament of the Eucharist. The biblical episodes illustrate the care for the human being; in blue ceramics, the episodes of Jesus’ life teach the steps for the salvation of the soul.
The support of the new archbishop of Évora, D. Simão da Gama, who served as a rector of the brotherhood, was decisive for achieving the complete renovation of the church’s interior. The works began with the contract for the gilded altars with the master Francisco da Silva, in 1710.
The iconographic program, as in almost all the temples of the brotherhood, articulates the seven works of Mercy. In the whole ensemble, Christ and Mary are the genuine models to guide the activity of the confraternity.
By this time, António de Oliveira Bernardes’ workshop carried out other projects for several churches of the Mercy fraternities. In Évora, the tiles were commissioned after the conclusion of Francisco da Silva’s work, and the painter created the pilasters that serve as the basis for the Atlantes in the gilded carving. Without a initial complete design, this type of organization of decorative campaigns is what we can call organic development, carried out in successive phases that follow on from previous ones.
The tiles run the entire length of the nave, and to amplify the illusory effect of perspective that involves the viewers, Bernardes created a continuity of the visual field that unites the various episodes.
On the left, the temple where Jesus expelled the vendors extends into a building that opens to the outside. Here, he told Lazarus to rise and return to life. For this episode, Bernardes adapted an engraving after Paul Rubens, but inverted the characters from left to right. The tomb, which used to be a cave, became attached to a grand building. The two other episodes depicting the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Rich Man continue the exterior landscape that began with the resurrection of Lazarus.
It is the careful selection of models, the perfect integration with the decorative ensemble, and the construction of an involving pictorial space that define António de Oliveira Bernardes as the great interpreter of tile painting in the 18th-century.
MANGUCCI, Celso. The scripture of images. The didactic narrative of the works of mercy. A “Compromisso” for the future. 500th anniversary of the first printed edition of the Compromisso of the Confraternity of the Misericórdia. Lisboa: Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa, 2017. ISBN 978-989-8712-61-5.