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Manuelin Style

Manuelin Style (5A)

This is the name given to the Portuguese architectural style that came to life during the reign of Manuel I (from who it gets its name). The king governed Portugal between 1495 and 1521 but this exuberant style continued to be used well after his death. 

Lisbon’s prime examples of the manueline style are the “Jerónimos” monastery and the “Belém” tower. This style not only portrays Manuel I’s name but is also said to illustrate his spirit and personality. 

Manuel I was known as a king of grand aspirations and world achievements. Examples of the latter are Vasco de Gama’s discovery of Brazil and the Atlantic route to India via the Cape of Good Hope as well as Portugal’s monopoly of marine routes through the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. In fact, many foreign authors went as far as to name him “King of the Seas”.

These achievements made Portugal a true imperial trade power and one of the world’s richest countries.

Maritime themes and images portraying the era of the conquests are found in the ornamental motifs of the manueline style. However they are not its only features. The ornamental design contains exuberant shapes and is full of naturally symbolic elements which combine Cabalism, Christian symbols, popular tradition, alchemy and   propaganda portraying Manuel I’s great empire.

The most popular motifs are national symbols, like the armillary sphere, which the king interpreted as divine blessing on his reign, and the cross of the order of Christ, which can be seen often on the Belém tower’s battlements. 

There are also many natural elements present, as well as fantasy images connected to the sea and the conquest of exotic lands. Among these are symbols of coral, algae, snails, shells and even sirens. In addition you can find images of rope, entwined cable, anchors, nets and marine knots all over the Belém tower.

The popularity of the manueline style faded with the end of the medieval age and the start of the renaissance. It is a late gothic style that is uniquely Portuguese, was influenced by Moorish art but also developed its own iconographic motifs. Despite being found on some decorative art, it was basically an architectural style.

The originality and character of the manueline style has marked the artistic patrimony of Portugal and nowadays attracts visitors to its monuments.

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