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

Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi

XVIIe siècle, ivoire, H : 7 cm

The Counter-Reform often dictated iconographic choices, exalting the themes which had been attacked by the Reforms, such as the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, as well as the saints of the Counter-Reform, such as the founders of the different religious orders.

Although the founders of the religious orders present in India are well represented, paradoxically they are not represented in the same way. Thus, there are relatively few images of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, which was the favoured order for the propagation of faith. As for Saint Francis Xavier, the amount of images of him is far from corresponding to the profound devotion paid to him in Asia and particularly in Goa. Furthermore, these images appeared relatively late – 18th and 19th centuries – and they are often decadent models inspired by the model conserved at the Basilica of Bom Jesus (Holy Jesus) in Goa Velha. Was there a reluctance to portray a saint who was still relatively recent to them (Saint Francis Xavier died in 1552)?

However, Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, is widely portrayed, often as a sculpture in the round, but also sculpted on the plinth of the Good Shepherd, as we can see in this example.

Saint Francis of Assisi always wears the monk robe of the Franciscans, tightened at the waist by a cord with three knots, which evoke the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although he was portrayed without a beard in Italy during the first Renaissance, the Counter-Reform preferred to portray him with a beard.