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Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries


The fascinating story of the Portuguese travels of discovery seen through 180 artistic treasures

Saltcellar with Boat, Bini-Portuguese style, Nigeria, 16th century, Ivory, The British Museum, 1878



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Jay A. Levenson


Leen Daems Tel. +32 (0)2 507 83 89 Fax +32 (0)2 507 85 15
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On the occasion of the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union Council, the Centre for Fine Arts travels the world in the wake of the great voyages of discovery with its exhibition Encompassing the Globe. The paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, maps, early books, curiosities and other objects assembled in the exhibition will provide a rich image of a “new world” during its formation. This exhibition has been on show at the Freer and Sackler Galleries (The Smithsonian Institution) in Washington until the 16th of September.

From Azores to Timor

During the 16th and 17th centuries, adventurous Portuguese sailors hoisted the sails and traveled the wide seas in search of new worlds and magnificent treasures. It did not take long before the Portuguese empire extended from the Azores to East Timor, creating a global trading network that extended from Europe to Brazil, Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and Japan. The cultural exchanges between the Portuguese and the territories “discovered” produced extraordinary works of art, some intended for export and others for domestic enjoyment.

A Portuguese vision for Europe

Encompassing the Globe presents no fewer than 180 artistic treasures which show the diversity of the cultures that formed part of the Portuguese trading empire. The exhibition consists of different sections which focus on Portugal, West and Central Africa, Brazil, the Indian Ocean, Japan and China. The introductory, and largest, section of the exhibition will focus on the historical and scientific backgrounds to the voyages of discovery. This section will focus on the revolutionary impact of the Portuguese discoveries on Europe and the exchange of knowledge with the people whom the Portuguese encountered. Pictorial maps, navigational instruments, rare manuscripts and early printed books take the visitor on a journey in the wake of the great discoveries and show the rapidity by which the Portuguese expanded their geographical knowledge. A contemporary section takes a look at the sequel to the great discoveries: today’s globalization, with works by Berry Bickle, Ernesto Neto, João Pedro Vale and Antonio Ole amongst others.

Maps, tapestries and mother-of-pearl vessels

Among the highlights presented in the exhibition are exotic Kunstkammer objects collected by the Habsburgers, the Medici and other princely families, assembled from collections throughout Europe; rare 16th-century world maps by Portuguese and Florentine cartographers; exquisite ivory hunting horns and saltcellars carved in West and Central Africa for trade with the Portuguese; Indian mother-of-pearl vessels that were given precious silver-gilt mounts when they arrived in Europe in the 16th century; intricately carved crucifixes from Sri Lanka; a life-size oil painting of a Brazilian cannibal; Namban screens that show Europeans as seen through Japanese eyes; a large tapestry that depicts the discovery of India, etc.

Illustration: Terrestrial globe, China, late 17th century, Bronze; 39 cm (diam.), Rudolf Schmidt Collection, Vienna

A coproduction by BOZAR EXPO & Smitsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery National Museum of African Art

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