Portuguese artist Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho (1729–1810) was not only a painter of distinction, but also a draftsman, and his drawings show how he helped to rebuild Portugal’s artistic heritage after one of its greatest disasters, the earthquake of 1755.
Rebuilding an Artistic LandscapeWith an estimated 8.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, an earthquake occurred about 120 miles from the coast of Portugal on the Feast of All Saints, Nov. 1, 1755. The seismic event almost completely destroyed Lisbon and surrounding areas. Over 90 percent of buildings collapsed, were burnt by fires, or flooded by the tsunami that followed.
The disaster demolished public buildings, monuments, churches, and palaces; Lisbon had to be almost fully reconstructed. The earthquake damaged the Lisbon Cathedral, basilicas, and major churches. Rebuilding began almost immediately.
Expressive DrawingsThe painter’s sketching style stands out from other painters of his time, as it is simple yet very expressive in character: they are visually compelling through their theatrical quality and style. Carvalho’s studies are very simple and uniform, yet full of details, precision, and liveliness.
His dramatic figures produce a compelling narrative, much like a play, and this story-telling makes his work stand out. In addition, his well-defined figures are full of expression, which is rare for the late Baroque and distinguishes him from his contemporaries.
These qualities and his high technical skills greatly increased his popularity during his career and helped him get multiple commissions.
His ink studies show how his personal style creates great visual impact, even if he followed traditional themes and allegorical figures of the later Baroque period. For example, he accentuates theatrical gestures in his figures, which increases the overall dynamism and gives his compositions a sense of grandiosity.
The artist used brown ink and Indian ink washes, with contours in pen. His technique was to draw the outlines of a figure with a quill and brown ink, then apply different washes with different dilution levels in either the same brown shade or in grey tones from Indian inks. This technique creates shadows, lights, volume, and definition.
His drawings are mostly religious and allegorical, but there are also mythological and political subjects. In the exhibit, there are studies for church ceilings based on religious scenes such as the adoration of the mystic lamb, the adoration of the magi, the allegory of the Immaculate Conception. and the marriage of St. Catherine.
There are also allegorical figures of Wisdom with the Portuguese royal coat of arms, referring to services rendered by the dukes of Lafões; of the sciences and virtues for the ceiling of the Academy of Science’s library; as well as the marriage of Queen D. Maria I and King D. Pedro III of Portugal. There are also mythological drawings, such as “Apollo and the Muses” and “The Fall of Phaeton.”
Distinctly Portuguese Painter
This late Baroque painter was the disciple and collaborator of famous Portuguese painters André Gonçalves and ornamental painter João Mesquita. Carvalho trained in Portugal, which was unusual for the time. He dreamed of travel to Italy but never did. However, his work is still based on Italian models, probably inspired by engravings.
His oil paintings, temperas, and frescos are found in dozens of churches and palaces in Portugal, such as the churches of Bemposta, Loreto, Mártires, Mercês, Sacramento, Santos Reis (Campo Grande), and in Lisbon’s cathedral, the Sé. The painter contributed to Lisbon’s artistic and architectural heritage also through painting Lisbon’s monuments.
Carvalho created a legacy through his dynamic and expressive compositions as well as teaching the next generation of artists. He taught in some of Lisbon’s first academies and his work was celebrated by officials of Lisbon’s Academy of Fine Arts throughout the 19th century.