Philosophy Theology

The Fisher of Hearts

The doubts about the unstable behavior of beautiful women became natural with the female personification of the months of the year.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the practical dictionaries of ideas for composing sermons disclose the best quotations from the Bible and the great philosophers of Antiquity to function as a reason for the discourse’s subject. In 1693, Friar Manuel dos Santos, of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis, wrote the Politica Predicavel, with infallible Christian teachings on the best form of social organization, as the author himself elucidated to the readers:

Human Politics will hardly be able to satisfy ordinary happiness & achieve the right end of its attempts if it does not have a spiritual direction as its object, & as a mirror of the lessons and precepts of Divine wisdom. The Ecclesiastical Writer will hardly fulfil his obligation when dealing with the secular government if he fails to accommodate the examples of Sacred Scripture, sentences, & expositions of the Holy Fathers, even more important to the value of the subject, as they are infallible in the certainty of history, & in the truth of what they propose and teaching…

Mars. Les douze mois de l’Année. Henri Bonnart II, c. 1678-1700. © British Museum 1922,0410.145.

In this period, the political science considerations on women answer a fundamental concern: the beauty of the woman’s body is dangerous because it is an invitation to lust, a viciousness that can lead to the family and social destruction. But as long as the woman pursues a wise and virtuous life, preferably submissive, she can become a powerful ally of man, as the Franciscan theologian explained, in the same essay, granted by the lesson of the book of Genesis:

However, if a woman has endowed prudence, gifts, & virtues, she is a faithful companion in prosperity, & good times, as well as in duties, defeats, & dangers, & that is why God has consigned her to man to help him suffer the imbalances of life.

March. Gabriel del Barco, 1697. © Museu Nacional do Azulejo.

During those same years, the engravings brought from France updated the garment fashion and the pictorial decorations of noble houses. The panel with the signature of the painter Gabriel del Barco, dating from 1697, currently in exhibition at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, represents the female figure of the month of March, probably part of a set with the representation of the 12 months of the year. Made after an engraving by the Bonnart brothers, who used the homophony between the French words for sinner and fisher (pêcheur/pécheur) to create the allegory of a young woman with a shrimp net, accompanied by the verses: All is lean in this season/ When the fasts mortify us/ And to sustain our life/ We need fresh vegetables or fish.

With a less incisive tone than the one used in sermons and essays, the suspicion about the feminine nature, adorned with beautiful dresses, was still present, now associated with a regular order of the months, repeated since the beginning of time. Are the unwary hearts caught in the shrimp net the sins of the beautiful woman?

The same dangers and attractions of a seductive lady, accompanied by a young black page, are present in the verses of another engraving by the same authors. Used by the painter Teotónio dos Santos in the tile panels of the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Esperança, in Viseu, they say: In this lady’s noble air/ One sees good qualities/ If a gallant is on fire for her/ We should blame her beauty.

Dame de la cour. Recueil des modes de la cour de France. Nicolas Bonnart, c. 1678-1693. © Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Dame de la cour. Recueil des modes de la cour de France. Nicolas Bonnart, c. 1678-1693. © Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Christian theologians’ concern about the female body shape readily extended to clothing, whose primary function was to cover and prevent the view of seductive women. To the speakers from the pulpits, the ambiguous reunion of the honest verses with the representation of the headdresses and silk apparel was not a sufficient warning. The Jesuit priest Luís Álvares, author of Ceo de graça, inferno custoso, a moralist pamphlet published in Évora in 1693, even alerted that, by imitation, the luxury of fashion also could drag the male universe on the path of hell:

Many forget about manhood, imitating feminine traits. They cut the beards that authorized men; they cover themselves with wigs: everything smells, everything squeamishness.

On the tile panels, against the current of criticism, the new fashion asserted itself more and more, disguised as a moral rebuke.


ÁLVARES, Luís. Ceo de graça, inferno custoso. Évora, Oficina da Universidade, 1692. Biblioteca Nacional Digital:

ANJOS, Manuel dos. Politica predicavel, e doutrina moral do bom governo do mundo. Lisboa: Oficina de Miguel Deslandes, 1693. Biblioteca Nacional Digital:

CARVALHO, Maria do Rosário Salema Cordeiro Correia de. A pintura do azulejo em Portugal [1675-1725]. Autorias e biografias, um novo paradigma. PhD Thesis. Lisboa: Universidade de Lisboa, 2012.

Lisbon, Museu Nacional do Azulejo

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