Spain and Portugal . . . according to history, the two countries intermarried, so when Isabella pawned her jewels to raise funds for discoveries of new lands, it brought them great wealth. Portuguese Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope to India and brought untold wealth to his nation.
In the latter years of the 15th century, the Portuguese, by an astounding expansion of their shipping, obtained their Indian, African, Chinese, and Brazilian colonies, and discovered the Azores. Portugal became one of the great empires of the world. Within the next century the Spanish conquistadors, Cortez and Pizarro, conquered Mexico and Peru, and for a century, Spanish galleons returned to Cadiz loaded with quantities of silver and gold. The ships that sailed under the Portuguese banner returned to Lisbon with the spices, silks, porcelains, and other products of both the East and the West of Europe. You see, Portugal was at intervals under the Crown of Spain but this arrangement was never acceptable to her people. She finally regained her independence and her former empire in 1665, but her people are of the same racial and cultural origins as those of Spain; her language is easily understood by the Spaniard and differs less than Catalan and Basque from the best Castilian.
I found the furnishings and the decorative arts of Spain and Portugal to be closely parallel. Although it does seem that the Spanish have somewhat more delicacy in their furnishings. Spain and Portugal were separated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees, so influence was predominantly North African, or Moorish. Both countries also had strong economic and political ties with the East, Oriental and Indian influences can be seen in Iberian furniture.
The Spanish nobility led a relatively nomadic existence, so furniture had to be portable. Most furniture
was made of local walnut. Cabinets, or varguenos, had handles on the sides so that they could be lifted on or off stands. During the 16th century varguenos had been luxury items, but they became more common during the 17th century.
My interior design career took me all over the world. This gave me the opportunity to see and touch furnishings and the decorative arts of the early centuries. The Metropolitan Museum is a close second to my travels, where I brought friends and clients to experience antiquity, where you can see, but don’t touch. The Hispanic Museum in New York is another learning place for antiquity. It’s where I first found a cabinet with secret compartments that I thought I originated. But, no, this clever cabinet idea was designed in the 12th century. Building storage into a wall, or between two lally columns, and hiding the doors in some tricky, clever way. You’ve seen concealed places in the movies, even a secret room behind the library shelves. Doesn’t Harry Potter stories have secret places like these?
My artist friends who are going to Toledo, Spain with the great artist and workshop instructor, David Dunlop, will be hosted by the local El Greco museum. They are in for a treat, surrounded by antiquity. Opened in 1911, the museum is located in Toledo’s Jewish Quarter. It consists of two buildings: a 16th-century house with a courtyard, and an extension dating from the early 20th century. The two share a garden. The museum houses numerous works by El Greco, especially from this brilliant painter’s last period, as well as canvases by other 17th century Spanish painters, furniture from the same era and pottery from Talavera de la Reina.
Any questions? Ask away . . .