A multi-racial pantheon in Portuguese India

From the start of the Portuguese colonisation in the 16th century, the production of religious images made from ivory developed in this "Rome of the East" that was Goa.  This production could be described as proto-industry due to its size.   In effect, we can only be surprised by the abundance of these “Indo-Portuguese” representations which can be found today in museums, at antique dealers and in auction rooms, in Portugal, of course, but also throughout Europe and on the other side of the Atlantic, in Brazil and Mexico.  But what do we understand these Indo-Portuguese images to be? Bernardo Ferrão de Tavares e Távora, one of the first people to have studied them, gave the following definition: "They are sculptures made in Asia by indigenous craftsmen, initially under the aegis of the Portuguese missions, copying Western designs, taking inspiration from them or recreating them with their own variations”. This lead to the creation of multi-racial objects which tell the story of the meeting of two worlds – the Western world and the Asian world.

  • The Good Shepherd

  • Detail of a good shepherd pedestal

  • Detail of a goos shepherd figure

  • The back of the goos shepherd figure

  • Detail of the base of a good shepherd figure

  • The good shepherd

    The good shepherd

  • Two good shepherds

  • Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

  • Detail of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception

  • Virgin and Child

  • Virgin of the Immaculta Conception

  • Praying Saint

  • Virgin

  • Virgin and Child

  • Blessing Jesus

  • Baby Jesus, Savior of the World

  • Baby Jesus with skull

  • Baby Jesus

  • Baby Jesus in his bed

  • Christ on the Cross

  • Detail of the Christ on the Cross

  • Detail of Christ from the back

  • Saint Sebastian

  • Detail of Saint Sebastian

  • Saint Francis of Assisi

  • Saint Anthony of Padua

  • Two Pilgrim Saints

  • Small Couple

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

XVIIe siècle, ivoire, H : 28 cm, L : 21 cm

The most original and characteristic of the Indo-Portuguese statues, the "Good Shepherd" figure can be considered as emblematic of this “Indo-Portuguese” art. Although at first sight the image is very recognisable to the European eye which is used to Catholic religious iconography, one may find it disconcerting when looking at it more closely. In effect, its composing elements are familiar, but their unusual layout suddenly becomes mysterious. The viewer does not recognise the overall composition. Which world does this object belong to? Is it the Eastern or Western world? This borderless multi-racial object intrigues, tempting us to explore it.

The statue always has the same composition: a pedestal, more or less complex, which is topped by a character called “The Good Shepherd”. The theme of the Good Shepherd, very common in Paleochristian art, disappeared in the Middle Ages before reappearing during the 16th century in the form of the young Jesus bearing a lost sheep on his shoulders. In Goa, the figure of the Good Shepherd always has a young and serene face with closed eyes. He is dressed like a shepherd in a short tunic, tightened at the waist by a knot, and open sandals (Greek or Roman style?). He rests his head on his right hand and his elbow on a calabash. On the left side, he holds a lamb on his thigh and sometimes another on his shoulder. He also wears a small shoulder bag.