Museum displays latest acquisition.jpg

Museum displays latest acquisition

LISBON’S MUSEUM of Fine Art has put together an exhibition of 16th century old masters with a religious theme to showcase its latest acquisition.

The oil on oak painting Ecco Homo by Frei Carlos is a small work, measuring 40cm high and 30cm wide and was intended as an icon of private devotion.

Jesus Christ is depicted crying and eight tears can be seen rolling down his face and some blood can be seen emerging from his lips.

Frei Carlos was a monk who lived in the 1500s. In those religious times people used paintings such as this to aid meditation, pray and chant using a rosary.  By the 16th century, with the Reformation stirring in Northern Europe and the popularity of the reforming humanists, religious devotion also became a more humanist and personal experience with the idea that a man could pray alone.

The small exhibition brings together 30 works of art, 20 of which are paintings of the same small devotional dimension. The idea was that by making these paintings small, they were easily transported from one place to another – a kind of portable prayer aid.

The painting, which was recently acquired, was probably painted for the prior of a monastery to use and appreciate when in private or on the road. “These pieces were intended to stimulate religious devotion and reflection in an intensely private way,” says José Alberto Seabra curator of the exhibition entitled Frei Carlos e O Belo Portatil, Friar Carlos and the portable Christ.

It is not known where the painting came from, exactly when it was painted or for whom, but it belonged in the private collection of Jorge O’Neill in Lisbon.

It is known that Frei Carlos painted a number of more public pieces of greater dimension for the Portuguese King, Dom Manuel I, and this particular example could have been painted around 1525.

There is also an ancient manuscript that mentions the painting monk at the Convent of Espinheiro, Évora in 1517.

“The painting has enormous communicative power to the observer with the serene realism of the Christ figure. Blood is flowing almost imperceptibly and the figure retains a calm and sad dignity as if nothing is happening,” said Seabra.