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 back of the good shepherd figure

The back of the goos shepherd figure

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

The Good Shepherd was made using known European elements to create a new final object, a reconstituted image which is not found in Western art. The elements, which are mostly religious, have been redistributed to create an image that became set and went on to have a long line of descendants. But where did the model come from? This pyramid shape is reminiscent of the Indian temples in the south of India, notably those of the Vijayanagar Empire, in the province adjacent to Goa that the Portuguese knew well. We know that this shape inspired many creations, for example, jewellery. Could these temples have been the source of inspiration for the creation of this unique image?

The back of the pedestal is incised with a lattice pattern which may have been intended to evoke the mountain. This is also where the cluster of branches with leaves takes root – on more complex pieces this sometimes supports the bust of Christ with the Holy Spirit, represented by the dove. These very fragile branches have often disappeared from the figure.