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Literature Science

The Virtues of The Planets

Constantly, painters and poets used the solar system planets to represent the excellence of kings and nobility.

The Spanish captain Miguel de Barrios, a member of the Academia dos Generosos, wrote a short play to praise the Count of Vila Flor, one of the military heroes of the victory in the Portuguese Restoration War. The action takes place in the Wisdom Palace, and to describe the owner’s virtues, the author summons all the planets to the final apotheosis, with the entry of D. Sancho Manoel amid a shower of applause:

In good time the great Don Sancho enters/ to the applause the people give him./ In this admirable factory/ we combined the seven Planets, who always compete equally in him./ Cynthia gave him vigilance./ Mercury, eloquent trick./ Venus, gallantry affable. / The Sun, solemn frankness./ Mars, formidable courage. / Jupiter, merciful greatness. / Saturn, profound Science./ Lísia: My King worthy of laurels./ Wisdom: And I, in the name of Miguel,/ who wants to shine in his shadow,/ I dedicate this Palace to him,/ so that he imitates the heaven’s one…/ In good time the great Don Sancho enters/ the Palace that in his light, offers itself.

Jupiter. Seven planets series. Jacob Matham after drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, 1597. Rijksmuseum.
Jupiter. Seven planets series. Jacob Matham after drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, 1597. © Rijksmuseum.

Similarly, Valentin Stansel, the Czech astronomer that settled in Portugal, also used the celestial bodies to praise D. Afonso VI, who followed the virtues of his ascendants as the Sun followed the constellations of the Zodiac:

I say, as the Sun was born, because the Excellency that the Sun has in the heaven the luminary of Afonso, recently born, achieves on Earth. The Sun was born following the twelve Celestial signs of the Zodiac, your Majesty, following the signs of another superior Zodiac, symbolized in the mysterious sphere of the Portuguese empire, which are the insignia of Royal virtues, & examples of the Kings, his Grandfathers, entering by imitation in the jurisdiction of each one, to equal them all.

French community’s triumphal arch. João dos Reis – Copia dos reaes aparatos e obras que se ficeram em Lixboa na occasiam da entrada e dos desposorios de Suas Majestad, 1687. Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa.
French community’s triumphal arch. João dos Reis – Copia dos reaes aparatos e obras que se ficeram em Lixboa na occasiam da entrada e dos desposorios de Suas Majestad, 1687. © Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa.

The ideas of universal order, hierarchy and power are the main reasons for choosing the celestial analogy. In 1687, when the Lisbon French community erected the triumphal arch for the celebrations of the marriage of D. Pedro II with D. Maria Sofia, the Solar queen was represented, in the upper part, as a ruler among the six virtuous planets: Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, Moon and Mercury.

At the Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira in Lisbon, the planets were represented twice: in sculpture, on the terrace, and in the tile panels of the garden.

In the tiles, Jupiter is the ruler of the Pisces, Sagittarius, and the sciences such as astronomy and music. These characters are represented in the lateral figures as well in the engraving by Jacob Matham, printed in 1597. As we saw in the examples above, these values supposedly shine through in João Mascarenhas, the first Marquis of Fronteira, owner of the villa.

ESSENTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

CORREIA, Ana Paula Rebelo. Histoires en azulejos: Miroir et mémoire de la gravure européenne. Louvain: Université Catholique de Louvain, 2005.

CUNHA, António Álvares da. Aplauzos academicos e rellaçaõ do felice successo da celebre victoria do Ameixial. Amsterdam: Jacob van Velsen, 1673.

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.

STANSEL, Valentin. Orbe Affonsino. Évora: Imprensa da Universidade, 1658.

Lisbon, Quinta dos Marqueses de Fronteira

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