The Age of Discovery: Manueline Architecture and Decorative Arts

Beginning in the 15th century, Portugal the small seafaring nation at the edge of Europe looked outward to the ocean for its growth and expansion. From Prince Henry the Navigator sending small caravels out to explore the unknown African coast to Manuel I's explorations of Brazil and the Far East in the 16th century, Portugal became a world power. Rich from the foreign trade of spices and slaves, Manueline architecture was a reflection of this wealth. The late Gothic style incorporated maritime elements in carved stone such as armillary spheres, twisted rope, anchors, seashells and pearls. It also balanced symbols of Christianity, the Cross of the Order of Christ with Islamic style filigree. Although lasting a brief period of time (1490 to 1521), Manueline architecture went on to influence Portuguese art and decorative arts including blue and white export porcelain brought back from Macau. Beauty and wealth can be ephemeral. The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, resulting tsunami and fires destroyed most of the elegant city including palaces, churches, libraries, and the Opera House killing 10,000 to 100,000 people. As a result the country was crippled; the remaining examples of Manueline architecture recall Portugal's past glory.