The Italian

Chruch and Tower of Clérigos
Photo:  Município do PortoCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

Entertainment and Arts

Many of the Italians that reached Porto did it through the Entertainment and Arts field, maybe because it was in this city that opera was heard for the first time in Portugal. The Teatro Lírico (Lyrical Theatre) was inaugurated in Porto on 15 May 1762 with the Pergholesi’s opera “Il Trascurato” (“The Incautious”). The Italian “prima donna” was named Giuntini.

The most famous Italian artist to have worked in Porto was, undoubtedly, Nicolau Nasoni, author of the Clérigos Church and Tower project, a real landmark of the city. Tuscan by birth, Nasoni came to Porto in 1725, led by the hand of the Cathedral’s canon D. Jerónimo de Távora, who hired him initially as a decorative painter. However, Nasoni would become famous as an architect. Besides the Clérigos Church and Tower, he worked at the Cathedral, at the Bishop’s Palace, at the Freixo’s and S. João Novo’s Palaces and at the Misericórdia Church, to name only some of his most well-known works. Another Italian architect who remained closely attached to Porto through the works he did here was Vicente Mazzoneschi, author of the project of the first building of the Teatro de S. João (São João Theatre), inaugurated in 1798 and destroyed by a fire in 1908.

Italian Porto inhabitants

Porto’s relations with Italy, however, were not merely due to entertainment and art. Italians resided in Porto since the Middle Ages. The most famous name is the one of Cecilia Colonna, of the illustrious House of the same name, who married in Porto Rodrigues Eanes de Sá, chief-valet of king D. João I. One of the descendants of this Portuguese-Italian couple was João Rodrigues de Sá Meneses, chief-governor of Porto, who lived in his house at Rua de Cimo de Vila, later known as Paço da Marquesa (Marquess’ Palace). He studied in Italy and was a disciple of Angelo Policiano. In 1450, the Genoese Jâcome Lourenço was living in Porto. King D. Afonso V granted him several privileges and freedoms owing to his condition of “master of making keels”. Forty years later, the Apostolic Nuncio in Lisbon passed by Porto on his pilgrimage to St. James of Compostela. He was accompanied by his secretary, a certain Confalonieri, who left us this curious impression of the Porto of that time: “it is a small city, but very beautiful, with many vegetable plots, beautiful fountains and two thousand homes. Walls surround it and it abounds in linens at a good price. The thread is white and refined. They are the most famous in the whole kingdom. The air is healthy and the goods are cheap. There are many monasteries. The cathedral is very old although not very big. There are many fish, which are not expensive. Everything is fresh, merry and in bloom.”

Reflex of the Italian culture

Still, the reflex of the Italian culture came from earlier times. The painting of Senhora da Rosa (Our Lady of the Rosary), on a wall of a lateral altar of S. Francisco’s Church, one of the most visited monuments in the city, is ascribed to António Florentim, a painter that came to Porto in the service of king D. João I. In 1435, D. Duarte, D. João’s son and his successor to the throne, sent the bishop of Porto, D. Antão Martins Chaves, as his ambassador to Rome. He would never return to this city. In 1440 he founded, In the Italian capital, a church and the still existent Colégio de Santo António dos Portugueses (College of the Portuguese Saint Anthony). He was a cardinal and died in Rome, having been buried in a beautiful mausoleum at the entrance of the high altar of the S. João de Latrão’s Basilica (on the right side when entering the temple). Another bishop of Porto, D. Diogo de Sousa, was chosen by King D. Manuel I to break the official news of the doubling of Cape of Good Hope and the sailing to India by Vasco da Gama to the Pope. The embassy took place in 1505 and had a great international repercussion.

Economic and social development in the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries

In the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries, as a consequence of the growing maritime Portuguese expansion, the city of Porto benefited from an enormous economic and social development, which resulted in the awakening of the ruling classes to a Renaissance culture and lifestyle. One of the great stimulators of this movement was the Benedictine abbot of the Saint Tirso’s Monastery, D. Miguel da Silva, later bishop of Viseu. The settlement of S. João da Foz do Douro was an enclosure of the Saint Tirso’s Monastery and it was there that the action of the prelate was most strongly felt. D. Miguel da Silva brought to Porto the Italian architect Francesco de Cremona, who built, at Foz, the first big Portuguese Renaissance church. He was also the author of the project of the St. Michael the Archangel’s chapel and lighthouse, whose building still exists today at the by the mouth of the River Douro.

Illustrious Italians who worked in Porto

The Florentine painter Pier Maria Baldi, who was a sort of photo reporter working for Cosme de Medicis, did two of the most ancient illustrations of Porto. Baldi accompanied him in his trip to Spain and Portugal (1669). The Florentine drew the notable things they came across. Magalotti, the chronicler, took notes and would later describe the journey. The mentioned illustrations, whose originals can be seen at the Laurencian Library of Florence, are a document of inestimable value to the history of Porto. This obviously incomplete list of the illustrious Italians who worked in Porto must not forget João Baptista Pachini, author of the paintings of the ceiling of the Chapter House’s chapter room, next to the Cathedral; Luís Chiari, who was responsible for the project of the Ordem Terceira de S. Francisco’s Church, a notable example of the Italian classical style; and Silvestre Silvestri, a master of murals who worked in the decoration of Nossa Senhora da Conceição’s Church, in the chapel of the Cemetery of Agramonte and in the drawing of the tiles’ panel of the outside walls of the Ordem do Carmo’s Church. Another Italian who lived in Porto was the Savoyard painter-restorer Reimão d’Armas. He carried out his activity mainly in the Cathedral. One of the most beautiful examples of a Renaissance interior is precisely the beautiful vestry of the Porto’s Cathedral, regarded as “an Italian palace hall in the Genoa style.”

But the Italians in Porto were not exclusively attached to entertainment and art. In the late 16th century a merchant named João della Ronsa lived in Rua da Fonte Taurina. His neighbours were the Italian tinsmiths José Franchi and Pêro Forte, who obtained a license from the City Council for the manufacture of tin plates and chamber pots. In 1626, treaties were signed between Porto merchants and the Milanese State in order to guard against the plague that was spreading across Europe. Cloths and letters from Milan would be “benefited” before reaching their addressees. Nicolau Setaro lived in Porto as an actor and impresario and he brought his sister-in-law, the actress Maria Giuntini, to perform during the festivities held in Porto in celebration of D. Maria’s wedding to her uncle, Prince D. Pedro. The names of Enrico Cialdini, Domenico Cucchiari, Carlo Montecembra, Valsassina Gacomo Durando, Giovanni Durando, Carlo Mazzola, Constantino Marianni and Jacques Filipe Martelli, among many others, are connected with the famous Italian Company that joined the liberal troops of D. Pedro IV and fought during the Porto’s Siege.

Services rendered by the Italians

As a reward for the relevant services rendered by the Italians to the Freedom cause, D. Pedro granted to each member of the Company the highest military decorations of that time. Charles Albert of Savoy, king of Piedmont and Sardinia, arrived in Porto in 1849. He had chosen this city for his exile, after his troops’ defeat in the famous battle of Novara. He stayed at the Hotel do Peixe for a few days; the hotel was located in an old small palace of the then-called Largo dos Ferradores, to which the City Council would later give the name of the unfortunate monarch. There is also a chapel in Porto dedicated to Charles Albert in the gardens of the Palácio de Cristal, ordered by a sister of the king, Princess Augusta de Montlear. Relatively near the temple stands Charles Albert’s last house in Porto. It now holds the Romantic Museum. A bill was introduced to the Sardinian Parliament, proposing the Porto inhabitants as citizens of that State. However, the City Council’s dissolution, a few days later, made the passing of the bill impracticable. Still, the name of our city remains in the Sardinian toponymy – Corso Oporto.

Published 13-09-2013
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