I have lately been preoccupied with Masterpieces. Art historian Kenneth Clark, whose groundbreaking series, Civilisation, introduced me to the world of art and culture, wrote a slender volume on the topic noting that a masterpiece can embody a confluence of memories and emotions to form a single idea illustrative of great themes.
The gardens at the National Palace of Queluz, which I visited during the fall, are described as the Versailles of Portugal. They are a “paradise dotted with masterpieces of English sculpture.” The work of English sculptor, John Cheere (1709-1787), the sculptures comprise the largest and best surviving example of his work.
The sculptures were conserved and restored by the World Monuments Fund between 2003 and 2009. Commissioned by the Portuguese ambassador in London specifically for Queluz, they are in the rococo style and include classical and mythological figures that are both allegorical and whimsical in theme.
Built by King Pedro III in the eighteenth century as an elegant summer retreat for leisure and entertainment, the gardens of Queluz were laid out between 1758 and 1770 by French sculptor, architect and decorator Jean-Baptiste Robillion.
The formal gardens extend naturally from the Palace with Robillion’s Hanging Garden (built over a water reservoir) serving as a forecourt to its entry. The dramatic Neptune fountain (seen above) is at the garden’s center and is framed by formal parterres and box-tree hedges.
The Garden of Malta, named for the order of which the King Pedro was Grand Master, is contiguous to the Hanging Gardens. Both gardens are seen in the illustration below.
The two formal gardens are separated from the surrounding landscape by stone balustrades accented with flower pots and statues. The Gateway of Fame serves as both an entry and focal point from which avenues radiate into the landscape beyond the formal parterre.
The intricate system of paths is visible in the undated plan above, drafted before the gardens of Malta were constructed. A series of formal avenues link discrete garden rooms. Both are embellished with lakes, fountains and water features. The sculptures below are sited at the axis to one of the main paths.
Water is a defining feature of the gardens. Elaborate fountains are part of a complex hydraulic system that includes cisterns and canals. These channel the Jamor River, a stream that flows across the whole of the garden and are used for irrigation.
A monumental Canal, known as the Great Lake, was completed in 1775. This served as a focal point for Royal entertaining highlighted by gondola rides and evening theatrical performances dramatically illuminated by lanterns and elaborate fireworks.
The canal is decorated with azulejos, ceramic tiles that illustrate historic and cultural scenes.
The Tiles Canal connects to the Palace through a forecourt and the Robillion Pavilion and staircase, also named the lion staircase. Located below the pavilion exotic animals, including lionesses, tigers and monkeys, were caged. These can be seen to the right of the staircase in the photograph below.
In 1764 Robillion designed the Medallion Lake in the shape of an octagonal star. The lake, enclosed by hedging and accented with sculptures, is the largest in the garden and includes a complex system of fountains and water jets with statues of Apollo and Diana by Cheere.
On axis with the Medallions Lake is the Fountain of Neptune where an imposing sculptural ensemble depicts the god of the sea ringed by tritons. Sculpted by Ercole Ferrata (1610-1686), it was placed in the garden in 1945.
Included in the extensive property is a series of discrete gardens. These include an orchard and vegetable garden, a botanical garden, a maze and what is now the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. These can be seen on the plan below.
Located ten miles north-west of Lisbon, the Palace and gardens of Queluz are managed by the Parques de Sintra.
The National Palace of Queluz was designated a National Monument in 1910 and is still used to host heads of state. Should you visit on a National holiday as I did, you just might see a parade and have the garden almost to yourself.
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