Old Goa – Art and Architecture

Old Goa - Art and Architecture

For the Portuguese of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, politics and religion went hand in hand. Any conquest or colonization was done with religious zeal. They regarded themselves as the instruments of God on the mission of propagation of the Catholic faith all over the world.

The zeal with which they originally started in Europe to check the Mongols and later the Arabs, acquired a new significance with the knowledge they obtained of distant lands that each hazardous exploration brought to light. Each conquest or colonization of land was followed by the settlement of Latin missions for conversion of the natives to the Christian faith.

Though Christianity bad come to India traditionally with the arrival of the apostle St.Thomas, followed by the Syrian Christians on the Malabar coast, the Portuguese gave the necessary royal backing to Christianity so that it took firm roots in the soil of Goa. The Franciscans were the earliest to arrive in Goa in 1517, and many other religious orders like the Carmelites, Augustinians, Dominicans, Jesuits and others followed suit, establishing convents and churches. Even though belonging to different nations in Europe, they were impelled in their work by the same ideal of extending the spiritual kingdom of Jesus. It was, therefore, natural that styles of art and architecture that were prevalent in Europe at that time influenced the artistic and architectural creations in Goa.

In the beginning of the seventeenth century, to which period the construction of most of the extant churches in Old Goa can be ascribed, the movement of the Renaissance in Europe was in its last stages, gradually giving way to Baroque. The Renaissance movement, which commenced in Italy in the fifteenth century with the conscious and ardent revival of the arts of the ancient world, with the particular employment of the classic Roman ‘Orders — Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite — unbridled by set principles of norms and rules, soon came to be standardized, thus going against the very spirit of the movement. The Baroque style, often expressed in sinuous frontages, overburdened decorations, with absolute disregard of well-laid principles of construction, came to be introduced as a natural reaction against standardization.

Twisted shafts, with broken cornices surmounted by clumsy curved pediments, huge wavy scrolls and flying figures in unimaginable places, and exaggerated interior decorations with intricate details of ornamentation emphasized by gilding and accompanied by sculptured figures, were the other salient features of the Baroque style which had taken a firm grip in Italy, thereafter spreading to other parts of Europe. The architects responsible for the construction of the churches at Old Goa looked for inspiration to the Italian architects. Imitations of those churches in Rome, which had a touch of the Renaissance with Baroque confined to the interior, sprang up.

Details of a hero-stone with a royal personage sitting on a throne. (Fourteen century AD) ASI Museum Old Goa.

Church of St. Cajetan

Corinthian pillar capital, Basilica of Bom Jesus.

The Church of St. Catejan is modeled on the original design of St. Peter’s Church in Rome. The Church of Bom Jesus with its facade decorated with Ionic Doric and Corinthian pilasters shows the application of the Classical Order. The Se Cathedral, with its Tuscan exterior, the Corinthian columns at its portals, the raised platform with steps leading to the entrance, the barrel vault above the nave, is yet another example of the Renaissance. Baroque style with its heavy ornamentation and gilded work had also found its way, as seen in the altars of these churches which also served to make the required impact of awe and reverence on the minds of the new Converts whom these churches were meant to serve.

The Manuline style of architecture prevalent in Portugal in the sixteenth century failed to make any headway as this style with windows nearer to the ceiling was not found suitable for the tropical climate of Goa. The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, the earliest among the existing churches here, was built in Manuline style as an experimental measure. The ornamented, entrance of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi is also in Manuline style. Its trefoil arch and double mouldings are suggestive of the sailor’s rope; it has also floral decorations in between, besides the Portuguese national insignia with a crown on top. The ribbed vaults, a feature of Gothic architecture, are also retained in this church, perhaps as a forerunner to the revival of the Gothic style by the end of the seventeenth century.

All the Churches in Old Goa are built either wholly or largely of locally available

laterite of reddish shade. Basalt, brought from outside Goa, perhaps from Bassein,  was used in the making of pilasters and columns to decorate the facades. The laterite, being not so strong and durable as basalt, was protected from weather by a coating of lime plaster.

Though the Churches were the efforts of different religious orders, they are similar on plan in so far as the various components like the belfry, altars-, choir, sacristy, etc., are concerned; yet they differ in some details like respective locations of these components in each church as well as in their dimensions. The buildings are oblong except the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which is cruciform on plan. However, an illusion of a cruciform design in the interior is created in the other churches by the absence of chapels in the transepts while the chapels run alongside the naves or aisles, with interior buttress walk separating each chapel from the other.

Though the churches were modeled on the European can they are marked by certain limitations due to climate, availability of materials, labour and artisans.

In a place like Goa, where the monsoon is severe, the arcades and large portals that afford little protection were dispensed with. Instead, the use of decorated wooden planks, reducing the size of the entrances, was resorted to. The lime-plaster needed to protect the laterite structure had to be repeated frequently keeping the building in a state of constant repair. Failure to replaster in the face of the heavy monsoon meant complete deterioration of the building. When buildings like the College of St. Paul and the Church of St. Augustine were abandoned they were soon reduced to ruins.

The architects were foreigners but the artisans were local people This is evident in tho floral decorations on the interior walls notably in the Church of St Francis of Assisi.In the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is an intricately carved cenotaph on one side of the main altar, bearing influence of the Bijapur style. It also closely resembles tombstones of Gujrat.

Content sourced from asigoacircle.gov.in



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