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


Detail of a good shephers pedestal

Detail of a good shepherd pedestal

XVIIe siècle, ivoire, H : 14 cm, L : 7 cm

The set of elements which decorate the pedestal – characters, animal, vegetation – are, if not identifiable, recognisable. There are no fantasy creatures or Indian monsters – which had fed the European imagination for so long –on this object. A long-haired female character lies in the lower section. She is often represented as reading, a skull by her side. One of the most frequently evoked representations is of Mary Magdalene, an exemplary image of the sanctified repentant sinner. Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the patron saint of Goa (her saint’s day on the 25th November commemorates the seizing of Goa by Afonso de Albuquerque) has also been mentioned.

In the central section, either grazing sheep or shepherds in the middle of their flock are depicted. Finally, in the upper section, water is evoked by a fountain or a mascaron spitting into a basin where two long-beaked birds drink (pelicans?). Two saints stand around this fountain of life. Some very elaborate pedestals include sculpted nativity scenes: the baby Jesus is surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and worshippers.

Finally, lying lions are depicted on both sides in caves. Vegetative decoration– such as stylised acanthus leaves – covers the entire pedestal.