Armchair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – III

It can only be imagined what the appearance of the next coach had on the spectators both papal courtier and Roman commoner. Though we have no way of known what the two lost coaches looked like the sight of the gilded Ocean Carriage glistening in the sun of a Roman afternoon would surely have been the highlight of the procession.

The Quirinale Palace in 1754.
From Guiseppe Vasi’s book on the finest palaces in Rome – courtesy of Roberto Piperno at Rome in the Footsteps of an XVIIIth Century Traveller – a truly remarkable website.

The procession began at the Ambassador’s residence at Piazza Colonna proceeded down the Corso and on to the Quirinale Palace, the residence of the Pope and seat of the Papal Court until 1870. The Palace was to serve as the residence of the King after the Risorgimento and with the declaration of the Republic in 1946 became the official home of the President.

Though we don’t know the exact path it was probably a circuitous route that gave much of Rome the chance to watch in admiration and wonder. The entire procession was meant as an allegorical depiction of the place in Europe that João V felt he was entitled to as “Master of Conquests, Navigation, Commerce and Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.” And nowhere is that more apparent than in this carriage celebrating a major achievement of Portuguese maritime history: the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.

The ocean carriage

Again designed in the open “Roman” style the body is gilded wood and iron embellished with silk velvet, silk brocade, and gold and silver thread.

On the front drophead the images of Autumn and Winter flank the coachman’s seat and a cluster of acanthus leaves forms the foot-board.


Unfortunately the photos I took of the Ocean carriage did not turn out all that well and a few ended up in digital limbo somewhere. Where I could I used the photos I had taken but in several cases I have raided the Museo


The coach was restored in 1998 and old skills and techniques were revived to duplicated the rich working in gold thread on the red silk velvet. The straw stuffed seats are covered in cloth of gold silk brocade. Unexpectedly the thick leather straps that suspend the coach body on the carriage works are wrapped in silk velvet embroidered with gold thread. Even without the allegorical statues and carving the body of the carriage proclaims wealth and importance.

The rear drophead celebrates the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias. Though Herodotus claims that a Phoenician expedition accomplished the task around 600 BC the Portuguese triumph is lauded as the first in modern history. It opened the sea route to Africa and Asia for the Portuguese traders. Other European nations were to soon follow.


Continuing the theme on the front of the carriage Autumn and Spring flank the god Apollo. The sun good strikes his lyre, no doubt singing the glory of Portuguese mariners and their achievements. And perhaps the odd word of praise to João himself.


Across a globe that rests at the feet of the god two old men clasp hands: the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

Needless to say the formal entry of the Marquis of Fontes created the desired effect. As did the news he gave Pope Clement after kneeling to kiss his slippers and present his letter of credence. He announced the birth of the new Infante and gave full details on the rescue forces that João was sending to defend the Vatican States against the threat of an Ottoman invasion. It was reported that the Pope gave “great demonstrations of benevolence and joy” and elevated the Archdiocese of Lisbon to the title of Patriarchate. An honour only previously granted to Venice. And Portugal was recognized as a major player on the world stage. João’s 5000 cruzados had been well spent.

The idiom for January 26th is:
Cutting corners
To undertake something in what appears to be the easiest, quickest, or cheapest way, especially by omitting to do something important or ignoring rules.
The idiom appeared in the mid-1800s and appears to be a quick way of plowing several fields by omitting the corners. However there is no advantage and it is often detrimental if part of the crop hasn’t been sown or treat.
João and Don Rodrigo certainly didn’t cut any corners in their efforts to impress the Papal court!

Author: Willym

A senior with the heart of a young'un

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