(b. 1736, Coimbra, d. 1822, Lisboa)

Equestrian Statue of José I of Portugal

Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

The earthquake of 1755, comparable with its effect with the destruction of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79, was considered one of the greatest non-military catastrophe in human history. The Enlightenment's dream of nature controlled by the human mind, then in the throes of formulation, was shaken to its very roots. While all the world was lamenting a jjudgment from God, the royal permanent secretary Sebastião José da Carvalho e Mello (1699-1782) settled down to rebuild the city. A man of the Enlightenment, his sole contribution to the debate over the jjudgment of God was to ask dryly why God only spared the red light district. he is recorded in history as the Marquês de Pombal, a title later awarded him by the king. In the new design for the lower town of Lisbon he left the former royal square in its original position by the Tejo, but changed its name from Terreiro do Paço to Praça do Comércio. The square is surrounded on three sides by arcaded buildings, leaving the fourth side open towards the Tejo. In the middle on a lofty plinth is the equestrian statue of King José I designed by Machado da Castro.

Machado de Castro's statue was the first equestrian statue produced in Portugal to be cast in bronze. The casting was carried out successfully in a single operation on October 15 1774 in the Arsenal do Exército. And on May 22 the following year, it began its journey to the Praça do Comércio in solemn procession. On June 6 1775 the monument was finally ready for unveiling, the ceremony forming part of splendid celebrations.

The 14 m high equestrian statue shows the king dressed in a cape and plumed helmet. His majestically grave gaze is directed downriver over the Tejo to where the city - and the land itself - opens out to the sea. Two allegorical groups flanks the oval plinth, while under the royal emblem on the end face is a medallion bearing a portrait of Pombal.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.