During the last summer I’ve received a special invitation from Ananya Jahanara Kabir to attend a Modern Moves Goa Research Cell meeting in London. This European Research Council Advanced Grant (ERC) project, studies the evolution of dances in their move from plantations to cities worldwide, and tracks the transnational developments, to break new ground in our understanding of modernity’s deep relationship to kinetic traces of ‘Africa’. The team investigates modernity, postcolonialism, and post-trauma by examining the global popularity of African-derived dance practices in a multi-lingual and inter-disciplinary research (checkout the project website here)
I’ve met Ananya in Goa, in one of my missions, and learning about each other came the invitation to present some of the findings from 10 years of research in India to the team in London. In this closed event, I’ll be talking about Altarpieces in India: from the Northern Province peculiarities to the invention of the baroque in Goa.
Part one: when two faiths collide The ancient Northern Province played an important role in the economic scenario of Portuguese India from the 16th century until at least the 18th century. Daman and Diu, geographically distant from Goa – the capital of the State of India – and Bassein – the nearest artistic production centre – sees the churches artistic panorama develop singularities worthy of analysis, with important signs of how artistic-cultural exchanges were created, giving us the most examples of hybrid representations from all the studied territories. Ornamental, figurative elements and also architectural elements are recreated in an attempt of approach to local art and its symbols of devotion. In the carving by local artists, the symbols of the local religions are transposed to an adaptation of the Christian decorative grammar, certainly in the attempt of explaining the gospel of a religion to those who were devotees of another, rooted in centuries of history, resulting in artistic-cultural hybridity.
Part two: A new light on Goan baroque A second look at the manuscripts, previous studies and architectural analyses of retable art integrated in the extensive inventory of altarpieces, allowed identification of three key elements involved in the creation of the Baroque in the altarpieces in Goan churches. They are the Theatines, a religious Order initially operating outside of the Padroado, the Grand Duke Cosimo III of Florence-Italy and Theatine Father Guarino Guarini. This new information about the artistic order for the altarpiece specimens of the early 18th century is significant since it puts in perspective the various dialogues of Portuguese India: artistic, cultural, economic and missionary evangelization. The Theatines, who began their missionary activity in Goa in 1640 without approval of the Portuguese Padroado succeeded, after some mishaps, in constructing the church of Divine Providence between 1656 and 1661. It was in c.1675 and in 1710 that two of the Baroque artistic identities in Goa, initial and final Baroque, emerge. These are exactly the dates of two work campaigns in the Theatines church. The altarpieces resulting from these campaigns are responsible for the establishment of a specific artistic taste in Goa, normalizing the artistic rule of their counterparts and forming the Goan retable art identity.