Summary: What I’ve Learned From Painting a Melting Pot

At long last,

This project has taught me many things, both in the realms of history and painting. As I’ve already discussed the paintings and what I have learned from them, I will now move on to the history.

As for the former, I’ve learned that, despite a shared history of religious influence, there are still many layers of individuality for each the Algarve and Lynchburg. 

To begin, Lynchburg was not founded until 1786, while the Algarve has seen organized civilization since the 6th century. Additionally, Virginia’s strong identity as a colonial state before the revolution established a dependency  upon England for architectural styles and innovations. It was not until after the revolution that new styles were implemented with a strong drive for individualism. Even so, post-revolutionary architects often were British, and styles derived legitimacy from Grecian, Neoclassical, and Gothic influence. Gothic influence was particularly telling, as it was implemented later on as a move away from the pagan iconography of Greek architecture; mythological iconography being not particularly ideal in churches. Also of note is the dominance of brick churches, resulting from a large supply of red clay and the desire to build these more important structures in a more permanent manner than the wood houses that surrounded them. 

Conversely, Portuguese churches were not built with uniform ease over the whole time that the country existed. Constantly switching from Christian to Muslim influence and back again left an architectural landscape very mixed in regard to influence. Many of those who had immigrated to Portugal in the early days brought with them Gothic, Visigothic, and Romanesque styles. Furthermore, labor was often outsourced to the most skilled craftsman, no matter the faith. Christian craftsmen worked on the great Mosques of Spain, while Muslim craftsmen worked on the great churches of the same region. Additionally, during certain times of Muslim rule, churches had to be much more discreet and faced many limits in their construction. Thus, styles were not so much inherited from a motherland as they were developed and shaped by the sometimes antagonistic, sometimes cordial, relationships of those living there. 

I also noticed how the ubiquity of the Catholic church in Portugal and the variety of denominations in Virginia, especially Lynchburg, affected the architecture of each region. Often referred to as “the buckle of the bible belt” by locals, Lynchburg has virtually a new denomination of church on each block. The traditions of each denomination and the monetary ability of each church’s members to give motivated a large variety of materials, shapes, and sizes for the buildings. Portugal, on the other hand, often had Christian rulers as opposed to just members commissioning church buildings. This tradition, along with nearly uniform Catholicism and differing building materials, lead to the relatively uniform church landscape they have today. Obviously, there are exceptions to these rules in both areas. Lynchburg has many red brick church buildings that are nearly identical in appearance, while Portugal does have a few churches that stand out from among the crowd. However, overall, these respective trends are visible for the majority of churches in each region.

Due to these differences, Southern Portugal and Lynchburg, Virginia do not appear to have that much in common at first glance; different countries, different continents, different histories, different ways of life. But as I dug deeper, I began to notice a bit more.

I noticed a shared human connection culturally, with the melting pot history of diverse influence in both areas; architecturally, with the prominent inclusion and importance of religious buildings in daily life; and even personally, with my grandparents living and going about their lives in Portugal. 

While I was researching abroad, I was able to reconnect with them. Discussing this project and the history of the two areas with these family members whom I have not seen in years re contextualized how I realized I should look at this comparative study. The differences of the two regions are strong and deep set–something obviously depicted in the differing appearances of my two paintings. However, at the end of the day, both paintings are filled with very similar religious iconography that unites them, and their people, together with a shared a bond. Essentially, this project shows how two seemingly unrelated areas can still share common histories and traditions.

I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to learn about these two cultures through a medium that I love. 

Thank you for following along!

Until the symposium,

Martha

 

Comments

  1. kemaniscalco says:

    Hi Martha,

    As someone with no artistic skill and very little knowledge of the process of painting, following along with your in-depth posts about the stages of the painting has been very informative and intriguing. With my untrained eye, I would not have consciously appreciated the composition, layering, use of color, and level of detail in your paintings without your beautiful explanations. Just out of curiosity, since you mentioned that you have painted more portraits in the past, did these paintings take much longer than some of your previous ones? If so, was it because of the unfamiliarity with the subject matter or the level of detail that you had to incorporate into each individual church in order to make it recognizable and aesthetically pleasing in paintings of this size?

    This summer, I took a class about Art in Andalusia, and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the religious histories of Spain and Portugal and the effects those differences has on the styles of the churches. The constant switching between the Muslim and Catholic power and the principle of using the best craftsmen regardless of their religion caused many churches to have similar, intricate styles, which I feel is perfectly depicted in the color palette of the Portugal piece. Although the painting is mostly more neutral shades of brown complemented by the blue, each church’s individual artistry and style has been featured. In my class, we talked about how the main purpose of the church in Spain was to give glory to god through the architectural detail, and I can see that that theme was carried throughout Portugal as well. When contrasting this with the variety of colors and styles in the Lynchburg painting, it is clear that there is much more diverse selection of denominations in Virginia. It seems obvious that every church was built around the beliefs and monetary ability of their individual constituents, but each was also influenced by the specific area in which it was built. The abundance of red clay and the natural setting provide the pops of color in the painting, which makes it very attractive to look at. As opposed to the Portugal piece, there are fewer extravagant artistic details showcased in each church, but the churches definitely appear as permanent fixtures in the landscape, which seems to reflect the colonists need to establish a place for themselves that would stand the test of time for their descendants. However, you’ve also captured and blended each individual church’s style into a cohesive image that represents the melting pot that is the United States.

    I am really excited to see these pieces side by side in person because I feel like you have effectively communicated all of the similarities and differences between Portugal and Lynchburg that you learned about in your historical and observational research through these amazing paintings. Great job!

    -Kaitlyn