This essay consists in a rather paradoxical exercise. My point is that for a better understanding of how the Portuguese visualized their overseas power, we must focus not only on their recovery and reuse of local visual traditions and materials (as in every colonial contexts), but also on the destruction of their own imperial images and symbols. The evocative character of such approach emerges even more, when one takes into account the case of the capital of the Portuguese empire in Asia, whose site is nowadays a rare spectacle of ruins and vegetation. In fact, for a correct interpretation of the power of art in Goa after its conquest in 1510, the struggle that occurred almost one century later, about the statues of the two greatest figures of the Portuguese history of the city, that is the ‘discoverer of India’ Vasco da Gama and the ‘conqueror of Goa’ Afonso de Albuquerque, must be carefully analysed. Who deserved more glory?
Thanks to a micro-historical approach, this contribution explores both archival and visual sources in order to put sudden assaults to public statues in Goa at the turn of the seventeenth century in the context of the political rivalry between two clans that considered Gama and Albuquerque as their respective forefathers, and competed one with another for the control over civil power. The three main conclusions of this essay are the following: 1) the urban landscape of Portuguese Goa depended on the attribution of special significance to selected places relating to the recent history of the city; 2) its balance was extremely unsteady due to changes, which concerned not only the political sphere, but sometimes the religious one as well; 3) natives were not passive witnesses of this continuous reconfiguration of the exhibition of imperial power within the city, but were involved in every contention about stones and statues.
Images have always played a vital role in political communication and in the visualization of power structures and hierarchies. They gain even more importance in situations where non-verbal communication prevails: In the negotiation processes between two (or more) different cultures, the language of the visual is often thought of as the most effective way to acquaint (and overpower) the others with one’s own principles, beliefs, and value systems. Scores of these asymmetrical exchange situations have taken place in the Portuguese overseas empire since its gradual expansion in the 16th century.
This book offers new insights into the broad and differentiated spectrum of functions images could assume in political contexts in those areas dominated by the Portuguese in early modern times. How were objects and artifacts staged and handled to generate new layers of meaning and visualize political ideas and concepts? And what were the respective reasons, means, and effects of the visualization of Portuguese power and politics?