John V’s Lisbon: the new Rome

“All the new coins will show my effigy and name on one side, as some of the old kings in these reigns used to mint as well as almost all the Princes of Europe right now […]” 1

This quote comes from a new law issued by the Portuguese monarch, John V, in April 1722. By then the Portuguese king had been on the throne for fifteen years and, piece by piece, his magnificent plan for his country was coming together. Not only was the aforementioned law intended to reform the coinage in order to provide his subjects with more adequate coins for transactions, but it also formed part of a bigger plan of promotion of the Braganza monarch among the great powers in Europe. What better way for disseminating his image than in a coin that everyone would see?

D. Rodrigo Anes de Sa Almeida and Meneses

Image portrays D. Rodrigo Anes de Sa Almeida and Meneses (1676-1733), 3rd Marquis of Fontes. It does not yet mention the title of 1st Marquis of Abrantes, which would be conferred on him by John V on 12 August 1718. (Biblioteca nacional de Portugal)

Likely inspired by the marchis of Abrantes (one of his closest counsellors and a well-known collector of coins and medals), and also by his father-in-law, the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I, who used medals to publicize his successes, John V quickly understood the impact of coins and medals as a vehicle to promote himself. He was seduced by the idea of placing himself on the face of the coins in the fashion of ancient emperors and old kings. He also endorsed reform at the House of the Mint in Lisbon, hiring foreign minters and acquiring new machinery in order to produce better coins and medals to fulfil his plans.

The Portuguese numismatic tradition was usually aniconic; John V’s change was a transcendent one and further illustrated just how important the use of images was for his grandiloquent plans. Underpinning these choices was the need to promote a strong and renovated image of the king before his peers, as he was, at that particular moment, challenging Pope Innocent XIII’s influence in the role Portugal played within the European arena. The king was adamant: Portugal must be seen and considered to be among the most powerful realms – Spain, France and the Holy Roman Empire – so he planned to use the influence of Rome, through the obtaining of privileges from the Pope, in order to support and reinforce his beliefs and his agenda.

By 1722 John V was in his prime. Among other things, he had defeated the Turks with his ships in the Battle of Matapan, he had already been granted the patriarchal title for the former Royal Chapel in Lisbon, he had obtained the holy bands for his first-born like the other powerful monarchs around him, and he had lured several top-notch artists and musicians to Lisbon in order to meet his most extravagant desires about his new and brilliant court. Of course there were still many things to accomplish in order to pursue the glory that John V was expecting to achieve, but strong roots were already settled, and the years to come would be bursting with grandiose commissions in art, architecture and music.

This book deals with John V’s dream of turning Lisbon into a new capital, taking Rome as its model. It is not only concerned with the king’s fascination with the Papal City, but also explores how John V’s plan for his country and court involved many aspects, from art, architecture and music to ceremonies, images and of course politics. The volume does not pretend to be exhaustive, but rather presents a noteworthy sample of the most recent and refreshing research around a theme widely studied within Portuguese historiography but not so well known outside Portugal. Politics and the arts in Lisbon and Rome explores the obsession of John V with Rome from very different angles, tackling classical political history, musicology and art history, and ultimately aims to bring to life a fascinating period in the relations between Rome and Portugal. It also puts into perspective the achievements of a magnificent, and sometimes extravagant, king.

– Pilar Diez del Corral Corredoira, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Madrid)

Pilar Diez del Corral Corredoira is the editor of the October volume in the Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment seriesPolitics and the arts in Lisbon and Rome, a cross-disciplinary study of the Golden Age of Portugal in the eighteenth century, which explores new perspectives on John V of Portugal and his cultural endeavours with Rome.

This post is reblogged from Liverpool University Press.

1. “Todas estas moedas da nova fabrica teraõ de huma parte o meu retrato, e nome, como usaraõ alguns dos Reys antigos destes Reynos, e praticaõ presentemente quasi todos os Principes da Europa”, António Caetano de Sousa, História Genealogica da Casa real portuguesa (vol. IV), Lisboa occidental: Na officina de Joseph Antonio da Sylva, 1735, p. 408.

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