Periphery as Negotiator of the Artistic Canon (few comments about Goa and its Christian Religious Art)

By Raluca E. Golesteanu, Polish Academy of Sciences / Humboldt University


Goa, the province located in the westernmost part of the Indian peninsula (the coastal area), was conquered in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, becoming a land of the Portuguese crown. Around the mid of that century, the Jesuits started a massive campaign of Christianization. As a consequence, the destroyed Hindu temples were replaced by cathedrals adorned by statues of the Christian saints.

So far this is a classic metropolis-colony / power-submission story. It is just that the artists who were called to design the art following the Catholic canon, albeit some of them were converted to Christianity, kept as reference many features of Hindu aesthetics. The face traits, the gestures, the colors of the clothes bear strong Hindu influences. In fact, the products of this mix, including wooden statues of Virgin Mary and the Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola that can be seen at the National Gallery for Foreign Art, Sofia, were considered as representing a style in itself, named the Indo-Portuguese. The information on this display, which is part of the gallery’s permanent exhibition, states that this type of art ‘in its outer form was Christian, but in its inner essence, it remained profoundly Indianʼ.

This expression of a local identity, which, although eradicated institutionally, kept surviving in intimate matters like religion, was doubled by an equally interesting negotiation related to the artistic genre itself. As we mainly refer to the productions of the centuries following the imposition of Christianity in Goa (as we mentioned, sixteenth century), Baroque was a style creatively adapted by the local artists who were far from the places where Baroque art was in vogue. The cathedrals and the statues they were building and carving in the remote places of the province itself were distant from Western Europe but also from the Goan centre that exhibited other samples of Baroque art. In other words, the local artists and craftsmen emulated the Baroque style by putting into play their representation of what was the Baroque art as they simply lacked the contact with the original. The result is a new art that brings its own interpretation of the ideas and values accompanying the culture of Baroque and of the related currents.


In short, the art of Goa illustrates in the best possible way the dynamics born around the center-periphery equation. Firstly, it is never a simple, unidirectional process; secondly, the imitation, if it occurs, is a highly original one, influenced by local traditions; thirdly, the negotiation by the periphery/colony of the model (artistic, political, social) imposed by the metropolis results in an alternative model. In the end, this alternative model, imbued with local (peripheral) features as it is, becomes a canon by itself, competing with the original.


Unfortunately, the museum does not have a site of its own, or a page dedicated to this section, at least in English; it is included in the national gallery directory:

The pictures are not perhaps of the best quality, being taken without flash light, but they hopefully give an idea of what has been stated here.

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