Parques de Sintra has released a new study which reveals the international scope of King Ferdinand II's art collections
06 Feb 2022
A lover and avid collector of art, King Ferdinand II, the Artist-King, left a definitive mark on the Portuguese cultural scene of the 19th century. A new study now released by Parques de Sintra reveals that the King's legacy as an art collector transcended borders and gained an international scope in some of the most important museums in the world, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The research was carried out by Hugo Xavier, art historian, museologist and conservator of the National Palace of Pena. Between 2016 and 2021, Xavier analysed an 1866 inventory in which the king himself described a total of 224 works of gold and silver, ivory, and enamel from his collection, which are currently dispersed. The conclusions of the study are presented in the free e-book "My Property": works in gold, silver, ivory and enamel from the collection of King Ferdinand II, the most recent publication of the Parques de Sintra "Collection in Focus" publishing project.
This edition was supported by the Fundação Casa de Bragança, the first institution to disclose the existence of the handwritten inventory of King Ferdinand II when it published work by researcher Ernesto Soares dedicated to the king's artistic activity in 1952, including the transcription of a single page of the inventory. The whereabouts of the complete inventory remained unknown until 2015, however, when it was identified by the conservator Hugo Xavier among the documentation donated to the National Palace of Pena by a descendant of the Countess of Edla. In this 1866 document, which consists of 21 sheets of letter paper, the king describes and classifies 224 works in gold, silver, ivory and enamel from his collection, sometimes making technical and aesthetic assessments and adding curious notes on the use he gave to some objects, revealing his personal habits. For example, the king mentions a small silver square tray that belonged to the writer Almeida Garrett: "I have used it for many years to collect the ash from cigars." He also points out the provenance of objects he bought and which were given to him, clarifying that these pieces were his and not the crown's by writing at the end of each comment "Propriedade Minha" (My property).
Given the undeniable importance of this document, Hugo Xavier dedicated himself to its exhaustive study over five years and concluded that King Ferdinand II was indeed an art collector of international relevance, amassing an extensive and varied collection of high quality works. In the publication "My Property": works in gold, silver, ivory and enamel from the collection of King Ferdinand II, now released, the researcher explores themes such as the characterisation of the collection, how it was displayed, purchasing agents the king used, and the dispersal of the pieces that occurred after his death, providing a full transcript of the inventory drawn up by the king. The research was carried out in the National Archives of the Torre do Tombo, the Ajuda Library, the National Library of Portugal and the Archives of the Casa de Bragança Museum-Library, where the "Cash Books" and other records of King Ferdinand II's expenditure are kept.
The research also identified several items mentioned in the inventory that have long been dispersed among different public and private collections in Portugal and abroad, or whose whereabouts is unknown. In Portugal, most works can be found in the Ajuda National Palace,but also in the collections of the National Palace of Pena, the National Museum of Ancient Art, the Casa de Bragança Museum-Library, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, and the Soares dos Reis National Museum, among others. Internationally, there are several renowned museums whose collections include pieces that belonged to King Ferdinand II, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
This work, which substantially increases our knowledge of the collecting habits of King Ferdinand II, is the fourth issue in the series of digital monographs "Collections in Focus". This unprecedented national publishing initiative by Parques de Sintra aims to provide free and easy access to cutting edge research carried out in the National Palaces of Sintra, Queluz and Pena, in order to promote the sharing and dissemination of knowledge. The monographs that make up the collection are made freely available online, in accordance with the Open Access movement. This issue is now available on the Parques de Sintra site for download, in Portuguese.