From contemporary art to ancient puppetry, Porto offers an eclectic mix for any lover of art.
This is the second edition covering yet more art and cultural sites we were able to visit in this lovely Portuguese city.
Teatro São João
It was necessary to book a tour to get inside São João Theater and our guide was a delightful, well informed, college student. We were able to tour through areas of the theater we have never had access to in other theaters, including through a museum where presentations of well known play’s scenic backdrops and props were on display, some full sized and some in miniature, to being able to step out onto the building’s rooftop to peep out over the surrounding city.
Building began in 1796 on the four story theater and São João, named after the soon-to-be king, opened to the public in 1798. The theatre takes up an entire city block and its central location provided us with a great meeting spot. We must have walked past it a couple of dozen times during our stay in Porto. In 1908 a fire gutted the building and a new theater was built on the same site. It opened in 1920 with Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Aida.
The theater is built in a horseshoe shape with wide hallways. Along the hallways, the theater was initially lit using tallow candles and later by oil lights shaped like candles. We were told that in the 18th and 19th centuries it was more important to be seen at the theater than to actually watch whatever was being presented and the horseshoe-shaped hallways lent themselves ‘to see and be seen’.
In 1992, the theater was upgraded with security features, electrical systems, dressing rooms, restrooms and a new stage. Our tour included going up into the heights of the building (where, as we have all seen in many movies, danger lurks). It was fascinating to see the equipment used to raise and lower sets, lighting and stage curtains.
The recognizable interior of the theater was similar to many old theaters with richly decorated gold leaf balustrades, gloriously detailed ceiling paintings, art covered walls and luscious burgundy velvet seats.
The horseshoe-shaped hall has 1328 seats, 6 large boxes plus the royal box. It was another worthwhile tour.
Museum of Marionetas
João Paulo Seara Cardoso (1956-2010) director and artistic director of Marionetas do Porto opened his puppet theater called The Teatro de Marionetas do Porto in September 1988. He inherited many of his dolls from a peer in 1980 and his goal was to create puppet shows based on Portugal’s heritage, popular stories, theatrical practices and rituals. His team produced television shows and published a puppet magazine for a short time and today they continue to travel the world presenting puppet shows. Each October Teatro de Marionetas hosts the ever popular International Puppet Festival of Porto so if you are the city in October, we recommend trying to get tickets if possible.
The 2-story museum opened in 2013 and although small, it is filled with puppets, props and paraphernalia used in the company’s shows. It is full of history and conveys a sense of the mystery of the theater. We saw pictures of Cardosa next to his peer, Jim Henson, the american puppeteer who created The Muppets and Fraggle Rock.
It was a charming museum.
Manoel de Oliveira Cinema House
Manoel Cândido Pinto de Oliveira GCSE GCIH (1908- 2015) was a Portuguese film director and screenwriter. He is credited with making the first ever color film about his home city, Porto.
He was a prolific filmographer making 32 feature films between 1942 and 2013, well past the age of 100. He also produced another 29 documentaries and shorts between 1931 and 2015. In 2008 it was reported he was the oldest active film director in the world. His active career spanned from the silent era to the digital age and this small museum showcases his life and film awards.
Serralves Museu de Arte Contemporânea
There were three temporary contemporary art exhibits being shown when we visited Serralves. “The Learning Garden of Freedom” by Yoko Ono, “This Studio” by Jorge Queiroz and “Life as it Is” by Lourdes Castro.
Yoko Ono (1933-) is a 87 year old Japanese multimedia artist, who was married to John Lennon for 11 years. There were nearly 300 pieces displayed in her show. This attractive White Chess Set has an inscription on the underside of the table that says “Chess set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are.” 😂
This next photo was not physically in the exhibition, only photos, drawings and a video of her working on the original piece were there.
For more than 14 years, the artist Lourdes Castro from her hometown on Madeira Island, has collected thousands of mallow flower petals that she has saved and stored and is compiling onto a glass surface, around a jar. The work is dated 1988-… which indicates the year the piece was begun and that it is still in process.
House of Filigree
Filigree is the art of curling, twisting and plaiting fine pliable threads of gold, silver or other metals to create exquisite and intricate designs used in jewelry making and decorative pieces. It was especially popular in Portugal from 1660 to the late 19th century but filigree is still made in Portugal, Italy, Greece and the Scandinavian countries.
We visited the House of Filigree on Rua do Almada. It is a boutique, a museum and a place where artisans practice their craft with live demonstrations creating filigree jewelry. Using magnifying glasses they solder tiny precious metal beads and twisted threads into lacelike designs, onto the surface of the work they were creating. Filigree techniques require steady hands and skillful soldering.
Archaeological filigree jewelry pieces have been found in Mesopotamia dating back to 3,000 BCE.
But it is the Greeks and Etruscan who are credited with perfecting the art of filigree from the 6th to the 3rd centuries BCE. There are museums throughout Europe that display precious collections of ancient filigree objects including jewelry, bible and book covers, sword hilts, buttons and various religious objets d’art. Try googling the ‘Cross of Lothair in Aachen’ which dates from 1000 CE, the gold and silver ‘Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard’ from 700 CE or named Ireland’s finest piece of jewelry, the ‘Tara Brooch’, which dates between 650 and 750 CE, if you wish to see different examples of filigree art.
Portugal’s “angel hair gold” or gold filigree industry dates back to the 13th century, and was conveniently located close to the gold mines and the Douro River.
The creation of the gold thread began in a foundry where a solid 18-karat gold bar was repeatedly melted, cooled and drawn into an ever finer wire. The final gold thread would end up the diameter of human hair.
Filigree is an art form as synonymous with Porto’s culture as Port wine, azulejo tiles and pastel de nata and it was indeed a challenge to leave the House of Filigree without a beautiful momento. Our memories, pictures and words will no doubt, sustain us.
Saúde from these Portuense,
Ted + Julia
View the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art photo album here
includes …… Yoko Ono, The Freedom Learning Garden
includes …… R. H. Quaytman, The Sun Does Not Move, Chapter 35
includes …… Lourdes Castro, At The Serralves Collection, Life As It Is
includes …… Jorge Queiroz, At The Serralves Collection, The Studio
includes …… China Airlines, Orient Express 26 – Return Trip