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Portugal’s Golden Ages: An Artistic and Cultural Mosaic

All-Day Program

Saturday, October 21, 2017 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2927

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The cloisters in the Jeronimos monastery, Lisbon (Photo: Lawrence Butler)

Portugal’s famous voyages of exploration in the 15th century led to the creation of global maritime trading empires in Asia, Africa, and Brazil and fabulous wealth in the homeland. In a richly illustrated seminar, art historian Lawrence Butler explores the art and architecture of Portugal and its dependencies during several of the country’s golden ages.

Participants explore the famous monuments of Lisbon, Brazil and beyond, as well as consider the darker side of empire that made the wealth possible: slavery and war. Special attention is given to the fascinating artistic products of the encounters between the Portuguese and their global contemporaries at the beginning of the modern era.

9:30–10:45 a.m.  Medieval Portugal

The nation emerged during the medieval struggles between Islamic and Christian states in Iberia. Survey the stern monuments of the new rulers, such as the castles of Guimaraes and Obidos, the fortress cathedrals of Lisbon and Oporto, and the ancient royal palace at Sintra with its Islamic-style tiles and gardens.

11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  Age of Exploration 

Led by the court of Prince Henry the Navigator and captains such as Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sea routes connected the spice trade of the Indian Ocean with the markets of Europe, all framed in the Christian rhetoric of the Crusades. Explore the arts of the Portuguese outposts in Goa, Malacca, and Macau in Asia, and the artifacts of fateful violent encounters with Islam and along the coasts of Africa.

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1:30–2:45 p.m.  The Golden Age of Brazil 

Portuguese Brazil with its wealth of sugar and gold fueled an extraordinary boom in art and architecture on both sides of the Atlantic­—all made possible by slave trade supplying labor for Brazil's plantations. Explore the city of Salvador de Bahia, the first Portuguese capital of Brazil, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure house of baroque art and architecture. At the same time, it is Brazil’s most African city, reflecting Yoruba culture in its unique candomblé religion.

3–4:15 p.m.  Enlightenment

The 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake, as described in Voltaire’s Candide, put an abrupt end to the golden age. Lisbon was reconstructed along the neoclassical lines seen today, its traditional azulejos (tiles) enriched by rococo and art nouveau touches during the Belle Epoque in the late 19th century. Portugal in the 20th century lost its empire, remembered in nostalgic fado songs, but its recent membership in the EU has brought new energy, prosperity, and arts activity to the country.

Butler is an associate professor of art history at George Mason University.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)