The Annunciation

  • The Annunciation

    The Annunciation

    Álvaro Pires de Évora -

Purchased in february 2018 by the Portuguese State with the contribution of the Group of Friends of the MNAA, The Annunciation is the first incorporation of a painting by Álvaro Pires de Évora into the MNAA collection. It is a major event in the history of this museum since this is a work that, despite its small size, opens a large window onto Portuguese painting in the 15th century.

We have long been accustomed to considering the polyptych of the Panels of St. Vincent as the foundational work in Portuguese painting and to taking the masterful art of Nuno Gonçalves (act. 1450-1492), exhibited in this room, as the starting point for a narrative that is then developed in the following rooms. However, in the first decades of the 15th century, well before Nuno Gonçalves started painting, and at a time when João I (reigned, 1385-1433) had in his service a Florentine artist (known as António Florentim), another Portuguese painter was active and already the author of a fully identified work (roughly 30 paintings), although his name is not mentioned in any detailed bio­graphical report or in many of the relevant documents at that time. We know him almost solely because of the way in which he signed some of his creations; for example, the signature that is to be found on an altarpiece panel from the church of Santa Croce in Fossabanda, Pisa, Italy: “ALVARO PIREZ DEVORA PINTOV” (painted by Álvaro Pires de Évora). From his patronymic, “Évora”, we deduce that this was his birthplace, but the painter’s nationality is also confirmed by Giorgio Vasari, in his biography of Taddeo di Bartolo (Le Vite de’ piú eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani…, 1568), who refers to him there by the name of “Alvaro di Piero di Portogallo”.

The paradox of these early beginnings of Portuguese painting is to be found in the fact that Álvaro Pires was an “estrangeirado” (someone who has adopted foreign tastes and customs), a Portuguese painter that only appears documented in the Italian region of Tuscany between 1410 and 1434, and who was active in such cities as Prato, Lucca, Volterra and Pisa. As an artist, he was fully steeped in the codes of representation, the material resources and the technical virtuosity of the style of painting that was to be found in the centre of Italy in the early 15th century and who may have accompanied Gherardo Starnina when this Florentine master returned to Tuscany, in 1401, from Castile or Valencia. What we do know about the work of Álvaro Pires defines it as being clearly Italian and produced in Italy by a painter who was still closely attached to “Gothic” models on the eve of the Renaissance in Florence. But Pires still remains the first painter born in Portugal to whom we can safely attribute an artistic oeuvre of some significance. For this reason, he must be considered among the “founding fathers” of Portuguese painting, while, at the same time, in his own historical right, he was part of one of the identifying currents of Italian painting in the Quattrocento.

Probably painted as a work of private devotion, this Annunciation, which can be dated as being from the final phase of Álvaro Pires’ career, is one of his highest quality paintings. It reveals a sense of impressive decorative grace in its red-painted fabrics and in the motifs punched onto the panel’s gold background, as well as denoting a particular virtuosity in the sensitive expressive elegance of the figures of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciatory Archangel, concentrating in this latter figure, painted in different shades of blue, red and gold, all of Álvaro Pires’ sophisticated palette of colours and demonstrating his exceptional mastery of clear and pure drawing, which places him as an excellent interpreter of the canons of “Gothic” painting between Siena and Florence. As Federico Zeri noted (Qualche Appunto su Alvaro Pirez, 1973), the figure of the Madonna receiving the Annunciation displays the significant influence of Lorenzo Monaco, while the splendid wings of the Archangel Gabriel denote an inspiration that was based directly upon the famous Annunciation painted by Simone Martini (Uffizi, Florence).


Exhibition booklet
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