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The Stained Glass



The stained glass programme for the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória – which was, as far as can be ascertained, the first Portuguese building to be chosen for such an artistic solution – began to be implemented probably at the end of the 1430s or the beginning of the 1440s. Of what remains of this stained glass, we find fragments of figurative compositions, ornate vegetal motifs and geometric shapes, not to mention a great number of heraldic panels. From a description Friar Luís de Sousa gave of the monument, in around 1623, it is clear that all the stained glass of the church and the Founder’s Chapel was still intact at that time.


Mouzinho de Albuquerque, the first person in charge of restoring the monument from the end of 1840 onwards, describes the advanced state of degradation of the stained glass and the decisions taken to repair an illumination system that had already been to a large extent destroyed. On the windows of the naves some sections of the old stained glass had survived, which were removed and refitted in new lead cames to make small panels that sometimes placed side by side indiscriminate pieces of the original windows. These panels were intended to be inserted half way up large wooden frames fitted with coloured glass in an attempt to suggest what had been lost to time, though without the benefit of a consistent stained glass programme.


The fragments that Mouzinho had placed in the large wooden frames of the windows of the lateral naves were removed and treated between 1996 and 2005. As they were generally in a poor state, they were not placed back in the original windows. Nonetheless, these are the oldest traces of stained glass at the Monastery of Batalha and in Portugal. Technically speaking, a stained glass window is a grouping of glass pieces, generally made of coloured or uncoloured glass, the latter often being painted, and mounted within a skeleton of lead cames.


The first stained glass artist of Batalha of whom we have knowledge went by the name of Luís Alemão and came to work at the monastery at the end of the 1430s or the beginning of the 1440s. His oldest stained glass pieces were reminiscent of works from Franconia and Nuremberg in the south of Germany, where Luís Alemão (‘Alemão’ means German) most certainly came from. The fragments of these works that have survived show prophets holding scrolls, some unrolled, some not, as well as patriarchs, saints and messenger angels. Others show scenes from the life of Christ or related to His death and resurrection.


Some of the 15th century stained glass shows a basic style that is identical to the rest but with more elegant figures painted with superior technique on large areas of transparent glass. The undeniable similarity to stained glass found once again in Nuremberg makes us think that at some time during the 15th century a compatriot of Luís Alemão’s must have joined him in Batalha.


At the end of the 15th century the first signs emerge of transition to an art showing concerns with realistic depiction. Nonetheless, it was only during the first decade of the 16th century that such concerns would be accompanied by profound transformations in the style of painting, with the arrival of master João, an artist most likely of Flemish origin.


In the second decade of the 16th century, King Manuel ordered complete sets of stained glass windows for the main chapel of the church and also the chapter house, whose decor reflected the power of the royal family through their portraits and their coats of arms, as well as the Dominicans, by association. The stained glass windows were designed and painted by easel painters, among them the artist to the court of King Manuel, Francisco Henriques.


The windows of the chapter house, dating from 1514, were most likely designed by this very painter, even if they were painted by another artist of unknown identity. As is also the case with the stained glass of the main chapel of the church, the grouping found in the chapter house is conceived as a grand altarpiece, in fact a triptych, illustrating scenes from the Passion.


The Monastery of Batalha was the Portuguese centre of stained glass production in the 15th and 16th centuries, being where most of its artists were based. From there they travelled across the country to carry out commissions, many from the King himself, as was the case in Batalha.


It is known that until the end of the 17th century, stained glass artists were constantly hired to maintain pieces produced in earlier centuries. In the course of the following century, the condition of the stained glass was to deteriorate substantially not only due to the lack of care but also the earthquake of 1755. This situation would deteriorate further until the restoration work which began at the end of 1840.


From about 1870 onwards, stained glass was again produced at Batalha, this time by the restoration workshop at the monument. It was then that the substitution of the wooden frames filled with coloured glass by real stained glass windows began to take place.


The substitution of the wooden frames was again taken up during the 1930s in some of the windows of the central nave of the church, by the General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments, to which end the Lisbon workshop of Ricardo Leone was contracted. This mission came to a halt in 1931, the year in which the restoration of the stained glass of the chapter house began. This was followed by that of the main chapel through 1940. The substitution of the wooden frames with stained glass has not been undertaken since then.