Muitas imagens da arquitectura foram «iconoteologia». Many images of ancient and traditional architecture were «iconotheological». This blog is to explain its origin.

In our M.D. thesis -a registration of some selected findings obtained in the studies we did around Monserrate-I*- it is exposed how in baroque period many medieval ideograms were built-in, frequently, in architecture.

Here, complementing and reinforcing our specific approach and its unexpected results, we must observe that several “Gothic Survival” cases (even if this expression is uncommon) have preceded Monserrate building.

Since 2002 we could understand that numerous creators, plausibly pushed by Church (remember Trent resolutions towards image), recycled shapes and different “ideograms”. Shapes that have been, initially, since primordial times, forms of calligraphic signs: flat and almost only bi-dimensional, generally no more than inscriptions.

Those shapes we easily presume began to be sketched in the sand (of Mediterranean beaches), or else in soft materials as clay; one day were painted, incised and carved, in leather, glass, wood, stone, ivory, gold…. They generated illustrations of stained glass, triptychs, low reliefs or jewelries of Roman Early Christian, Goths Art (see Aloïs Riegl), Roman Early Christian, Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic Art.

As one sees in architecture, Romanesque and Gothic, the very same images that have contributed to the first Christian Art, after, they gained volume and three-dimensionality. But, if in Medieval Styles - as it happened especially in France and northern Europe, where only very few diagrams were associated- far later, we perceive an «imperative» tendency: a returning to the older images. I. e., we can observe the reappearance, into a much larger amount, of Latin and south European decorative (or meaningful) forms.

Around 17th and the beginning of 18th century, as is patent in European monumental heritage, then the desire of being wealthier, more significant and highly rhetoric -in the linguistic and codified system architecture was– this wish pulled authors to invention. Casting in their edifices the shapes considered to be more qualified to help Church gathering people around its purposes and ideas.        

We name such emblematic schemes as “Ideograms”** because the best authors used them, perfectly integrated in the new compositions. Into which they were able to supply the essential (also considered symbolic) meanings we are referring.

As everyone can see, with an enormous creativity, such Ideograms transformed architecture. Producing some of the more extraordinary, unusual (they are unique, not repeated continually as happens in Gothic Style) and admirable masterpieces.

For us this is the case of a much known baroque church, built in Turin***:

St Lorenzo by Guarino Guarini, that we did not visit but became absolutely fascinated with this magnificent oeuvre, when we assimilated all the Christian sense and traditional ideas, that were «merged» in its dome conception.

But it is not the only example, as there are hundreds.

Here in Lisbon remember the Aqueduct with its huge arches: they are the highest ever built in stone.

Almost certainly, the pointed arch was a strong desire of John V (1689-1750) - the King recognized as Fidelíssimo (Most Faithful) by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58).

The main Aqueduct crossing Alcântara valley, in spite of being called «Águas Livres» (Free Waters), was paid: highly taxed, as happens today, in endless sequences..., by Lisbon people. Its design from 1736 (see next post), is due to the royal architect Custódio Vieira (c. 1690-1744).

(click on the image)

*The first phase, built by Gérard De Visme, yet in the 18th century.

**Many authors sustain Louis Hautecoeur’s theory: they accept as true that «the complicated forms» were preferred. For us, one who realizes the evolution has been accomplished (then) - in complexity and not a useless complication – disagrees with the idea.

***See Monserrate…, op. cit., pp. 27-74, including references to Baroque Architecture, and (see pp. 261-275, figs. 90-119) extracts of medieval forms.,_Turin

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With a special thank you to Cristina Pinheiro, who made this beautiful (and happy) photo somewhere (?)... in Brazil.

a special thank you to Cristina Pinheiro

Again we suggest a comparison:

now between the geometric framework of the iron gate, with the image we included in our preceding post: a mosaic of Ravenna - 6th century, representing Last Supper.

The towel (or the table...?) has almost the same pattern we saw recently in the chalices-custodies of MNAA*; or also in the beautiful window of Alpedrinha**.

In all these situations we think the use of such ornament is a direct outcome of its initial meaning: suggesting harmony and the Divine. 

*See here

**See also: and

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Other forms (and patterns) whose roots are very ancient, as we know.

To be compared with those presented in the post of 9.1.2013.



and also:

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For those desiring to know, in a synthesis written in French, of our first discoveries made by 2002, see:

L’histoire d’une découverte (1ère partie) -

L’histoire d’une découverte (2ème partie)  -


Image from: Owen Jones, La Grammaire de l'Ornement, L'Aventurine, see PL. XXVIII.

Some of the patterns above are inscribed in a Portuguese royal tomb, in Alcobaça. Then, can we presume they were not so Byzantine as they have been pigeon-holed by Owen Jones...?

See also:

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We mean the Magi’s Star, which in our representation (today) is an octagonal shape*.


On this subject - one may suppose there is nothing to be said… – quite the opposite we found some interesting information. And speculating (as we always do) it is possible to discover a little more:


“…The most famous picture is probably the fresco of the rich biblical cycle in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua, by Giotto at the beginning of the 14th century. In this fresco, the star has a tail, to show that it was like a comet, a celestial object, not very frequent, but well known in ancient times. It seems that Giotto, while painting a realistic comet, was thinking of Halley's comet, which has a period of about 76 years around the sun. This was visible in 1301, when passing near the Earth.**  


The oldest pictures, on the contrary, depict a star with no tail. There are eight spikes in the mosaic, from 433, of St. Mary the Major in Rome and, in Ravenna, and in the one of St. Apollinaire The New, from the 6th century, in which there is a peculiar pair of stars, one inside the other.”**


Did the eight spikes add, intentionally, a significant meaning to the star: the notion of a «spiritual light» that comes from Holy Spirit?

We do think so, because Holy Spirit was frequently associated to light and air (pneuma, in Greek).

Elements - Fire and Air - that were considered vital, and two of the Four Divine Essences.  


*Remember, particularly the star in the Epiphany depiction at Santi Cosmi e Damiano (a roman church): images we posted some days ago. See:

**See: II. “Representations and interpretations of the star in the Tradition” at: (from where we quote the main text of this post)

See also:

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"The effectiveness of Science development in Portuguese Universities:

how they do not deal with innovation!"

was exported to Primaluce

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There is a recent exhibition - about Imaginary Architecture - in MNAA, our National Museum of Antique Art.

Remember last year we had written about the Museum and quoted Dana Arnold, and her defense for new thematic researches on architecture*.

In this exhibition (temporary, until 30 March) the curators’ team is proposing some renewed ideas and further readings on different subjects concerning architecture.

A good reason to congratulate the new trails appearing in this scientific area (here in Potugal): even if after our discoveries we would like to see better and much superior advancements.

With the importance we are giving to Ideograms or Ornaments - as «words employed in architecture» - naturally we would prefer to see a little more…

For example, we perceived that a pattern we can see frequently in architectural works, it also appears in several chalices and custodies: why?  

In the past it meant the heaven? A heavenly God from who emanates imperial and royal power? Or the Holy Spirit, associated to a divine Light?

from: A Arquitectura Imaginária, MNAA-INCM, 2012, p. 165

*See -

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“By linking the three domains of theology, art and science all at once, the aim is not to increase the critical mood or to reinforce disbelief and irony. On the contrary, the aim is to transform iconoclasm from being an indisputable resource into a topic to be systematically interrogated.”*


"...Scientific research within the theme Cultural and Societal Dynamics focuses largely on critical reflection on the developments, and on their thorough analysis and interpretation from different perspectives. Within the theme, participants such as anthropologists, historians, philosophers, art historians, jurists, political scientists, linguists, theologians, educationalists and psychologists are studying what binds, and what divides us."**




The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

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Primaluce: Uma Nova História da Arquitectura
Janeiro 2013







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