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To the Sovereign and Ever August Monarch King João the Fifth of Portugal [photographic reproduction of the engraving by Guillaume Debrie, c. 1748]

Mário Novais (1899-1967)




In this rare view of the interior of the Ribeira Royal Palace in Lisbon, King João V takes the lead in a symbolic feet-washing ceremony of the city’s poor.

The episode is well-known thanks to a print dated c. 1748 by the artist of Dutch origin Guillaume François Debrie (active in Portugal between 1728 and 1755). The scene was drawn, engraved and given to the Sovereign and Ever August Monarch King João the Fifth of Portugal, by his most humble and loyal servant Guilherme Lourenço Debrie, accompanied by a legend in praise of the king’s magnanimous nature.

It is possible that the scene took place in the Tudescos Room, which housed the royal house’s splendid collection of tapestries, lost in the earthquake of 1755. It was the the main ceremonial space in the palace since the days of King Manuel I and the largest room in the palace complex, with an area of more than 450 m2. It was where solemn acts of the Courts were carried out, which gave it particular political symbolism.

In this reserved, but luxurious and emblematic scene, the monarch wears monastic vestments and kneels before a group of thirteen poor people who have, for once, crossed the threshold of Terreiro do Paço and gained access to the royal residence. This provides an interesting inversion of social roles: it is the king, divested of his majestic dignity, who treats the most fragile members of the society he leads. He is a gravely sick man, in the final throes of life after suffering a violent attack in 1740, which left part of his body paralysed. Just as Jesus humbly washed the feet of his apostles during the Last Supper (an act which precedes the Passion of Christ), the king cares for his subjects before passing from life on earth to a heavenly existence.


© Museu de Lisboa