Old Goa - The Paintings & Gilt Woodwork

The Paintings
When the Portuguese started erecting magnificent Churches soon after Goa's conquest, artists were required to decorate them elaborately. It is only through the descriptions of famous travelers such as Pyrard de Laval, Jean Tavernier, Dr. Wilson, Cottineau de Kloguen that we come to know about the existence of many beautiful paintings which decorated the Churches in Old Goa. With the demolition of the Churches, the paintings were also destroyed. The few which escaped destruction will convey to us a faint idea about the past; but many of these paintings have been retouched and crudely over painted,so that portraits of Vice-Roy and some paintings of Santa Catarina which are in the sacristy of the SO Catedral were cleaned at the Instituto de Restauro in Lisbon.

There are three types of paintings in Old Goa viz, those on wood, those on canvas and the murals. The first paintings of the first quarter of the XVth century started deteriorating immediately, due to the local materials employed. So, the paintings were imported from Portugal; but soon after, the local artists improved their technique so that all the big Churches which were erected at the end of XVIIth and at the beginning of the XVIIth centuries were decorated by them and the practice of importing paintings from Portugal was almost stopped.

At present, we find in Old Goa paintings imported from Portugal as well those done in Goa; but among the latter, some were done by native artists and others by foreigners who had settled in Goa, such as the members of the religious congregations, etc. But according to art historian Carlos de Azavedo, the majority of them belong to native artists. There are many references to them. Almost all the mural paintings which we admire in Old Goa, especially in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Convent of St. Monica, are attributed to native artists. With the increase of Christian population, their activity developed extraordinarily. They became so famous that orders for paintings came even from Cochin.

The paintings imported from Lisbon can be distinguished from the local ones not only by their style but also by the quality of the wooden base. The Portuguese employed oak wood, while teak wood was common in Goa. In the former category, we find a series of seven paintings on oak wood, depicting different episodes from the life and martyrdom of Santa Catarina, which are at present in the sacristy of Se. A comparative study of the dressing style and the sceneries in these paintings show that they belong to the 2nd quarter of the XVlth century. These paintings were evaluated and highly appreciated when some of them were cleaned at the Instituto de Restauro in Lisbon; this study revealed that there is much hidden beauty in the portraits of Santa Catarina and other feminine figures. If we compare them with the present gilt altarpiece of the main altar of the Se, we will find that the latter were patterned on the designs of the former.

Besides this series, we have the paintings of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Joseph with Child Jesus in the sacristry of Se. There is also a painting on wood depicting three Saints in the Casa Professa of Bom Jesus.

Among the local paintings we can mention the following, besides the famous gallery of the portraits of Vice-Roys: a series of Apostles in the Se and another in the Born Jesus Church (this last series was perhaps painted in 1694 as we find this date on the back of the painting of the Apostle, St. Mathias); a painting of St. Francis Xavier above the last door of the Chapel where we find the tomb of the Saint. It is said that this painting is a faithful likeness of the Saint. It carries the following legend: Dimidiurn cernis, quern magnurn suscipit orbis: Xavier est: toturn nulla tabella capit (The half of him you see whom the world admires as great: he is Xavier. No picture can hold him whole). Besides the beautiful paintings which decorate the tomb of St. Francis, the local artists painted also the murals in St. Monica's Convent, St. Francis of Assisi's and the Se Catedral. There are some vestiges in the Church of Rosario.

The mural paintings in Old Goa are very important because they reveal the influence of Indian decoration even in religious designs. Sta. Monica's and St. Francis of Assisi's murals reveal a hybrid style which developed in Goa, namely the blend of western elements with the Indian ones. This is evident especially in the painting of St. Michael at Sta. Monica's and that of Angels at St. Francis of Assisi's and many other decorative murals.