Although history has kept the name of remarkable tile painters, usually the activity was carried out in anonymity. This anonymity was acquired for several reasons and revealed different forms of insertion in artistic circles of Lisbon.
There were tile painters who were mere wage earners from potteries. As the painter Félix da Costa pointed out, without any academic training, they should not even identify themselves as painters. Others, that were well known in the capital’s art scene and almost always were involved in companies with several painters, never signed any of their works. There were still others who abandoned their own identity to gain greater social recognition.
Nicolau de Freitas was an apprentice to António de Oliveira Bernardes, the most respected tile painter of his time. With such a start, the future seemed promising. After finishing his apprenticeship in the Santa Catarina workshop, he returned to the pottery center of Anjos, to collaborate with António Gonçalves. Here, he established a privileged relationship with Bartolomeu Antunes, master tiler of Royal Palaces, who offered him the marriage to his eldest daughter. Despite being enrolled in the Brotherhood of São Lucas, he was not so committed to the confraternity, not depending on the circle of painters to gather clients.
We know only three works signed by Nicolau de Freitas, in a short period between the years 1736 and 1744. The first one is in front of a panel bearing the identification of the master tiler Bartolomeu Antunes, and the other two are small ones with the representation of saints. The exponential development of the production of the Great Lisbon Workshop, which hired several painters, eventually dictated the end of the apposition of his signature in the sets he executed.
In an unprecedented way, in 1750, D. João V appointed Nicolau de Freitas as a porter of the Chancellery and the Court of Supplication, a minor position in the royal administration. As can be seen from the pleading of mercy, Nicolau de Freitas acquired part of the office to receive a regular stipend, regardless of his activity as a painter.
After the mercy, Nicolau de Freitas started to designate himself, in the official documents, as a tribunal porter, to make himself socially recognized – an effort that, significantly, was not carried out through his profession as a tile painter, or under the auspices of the Brotherhood of St. Luke.
Nicolau de Freitas’ strategy contrasts with that of Valentim de Almeida, who worked for a long time in the Brotherhood of São Lucas, from 1717 to 1750. In the brotherhood of the painters of Lisbon, he was a servant, a deputy, and president assistant of the painter Brás de Oliveira Velho. For several years he was responsible for walking from house to house to collect annual contributions.
Everything indicates that Valentim de Almeida planned a career of greater artistic recognition, and his name is associated to a campaign with the renowned painter Jerónimo da Silva (1687-1753) for the Graça Monastery in Lisbon.
As a consequence of the respect earned among the Lisbon painters, he was chosen by the canons of the Oporto Cathedral to create the tiles of the lower cloister, during the renovation of the medieval church, carried out between 1722 and 1744.
In addition to a small property he inherited from his father, Valentim de Almeida owned an oratory, some paintings, and also pieces of noble clothing, such as a coat, two wigs, and a small silver sword. That is a concern for the social representation that, although known from satires of this period, we might not immediately associate with the Lisbon tile painters.
This meager heritage was, however, acquired at the expense of constant work, and Valentim de Almeida, over seventy years old, was one of the promoters of the society of tile painters created in 1764, forcing himself to work in the painting of tiles for the price of a daily wage. Without exaggeration, we can say that he died painting anonymously as he started.
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.