José António Falcão
José António Falcão, Ph.D., is a reputed Portuguese art historian, museum curator and educator. Born Lisbon 1961, he graduated in History of Art, Architecture and Museology.
A passion: monuments, museums, works of art
Leading expert in the field of religious art, Prof. Falcão is the head the Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja (Department of Historical and Artistic Heritage of the Diocese of Beja) since its foundation, in 1984. “Conservador-chefe de museus” (museums chief curator), he was also the organizer of the diocesan museums network of Beja.
As a museum professional, he worked in relevant institutions as Museu de Évora, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian and was successively curator and director of Casa dos Patudos, the José Relvas former residence in Alpiarça, the most important house museum in Portugal.
José António Falcão is a well known authority in the field of Christian heritage. He conducted many researches in the study of Southern Portugal churches and treasures and is one of the first researchers of the “modern generation” of Portuguese art historians to study, theorize and disseminate the magnificent sacred art of the Alentejo – the area between the Tagus River and the Algarve.
He dedicated major publications to this matter, as As Vozes do Silêncio (The Voices of Silence) , Entre o Céu e a Terra (Between Earth and Sky)  and As Formas do Espírito (The Shapes of the Spirit) , which made school in Portugal and abroad. Other essays launched bridges between Eastern and Western spiritual traditions and their reflections on aesthetic and plastic phenomena. His pioneering contributions to the scientific study of the artistic civilization of the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula gave the basis to preserve a large number of monuments and works of art before sparsely disseminated.
Great connoisseur of Catholic Church art and architecture, José António Falcão is widely considered one of the "fathers" of the religious heritage movement in Portugal, disseminated over the past decades through publications, exhibitions, courses, conferences, regular collaborations in the media and many other ways. He has also played a very significant role in training young curators and conservators at Portuguese and Spanish universities.
Prof. José António Falcão is a corresponding member of the Academia Nacional de Belas-Artes (National Fine-Arts Academy) and Academia Portuguesa da História (Portuguese Academy of History). During many years he acted as president of the Real Sociedade Arqueológica Lusitana (Royal Lusitanian Archaeological Society). He is now chairman of the Associação Portuguesa de Museus da Igreja Católica (Portuguese Association of Catholic Church Museums) and deputy general secretary of Europae Thesauri.
José António Falcão and the revival of Portuguese religious heritage
The Alentejo is, of all the regions of Portugal, the one which was able to preserve most strongly its ancestral roots, resisting with courage, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of its people, the assaults of the attempts at standardization of the landscape, towns and traditions. The head of this large area is Évora, but its heart is in Beja. It is towards the South, between the ocean and the border with Andalucia that one may best tune the strings of the Alentejan soul. The territory corresponding to the diocese of Beja stands out, for geographical and historical reasons: the old Pax Iulia, capital of an administrative division of the Roman Empire, the conventus pacensis, and later the centre of a taifa, under Islamic rule, and, finally, from the transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age, the seat of a dukedom connected to the royal household.
It is a unique area in which Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Northern and the Southern, Eastern and Western influences meet. This makes it an area open to the world, a crucible of different peoples, cultures and civilizations, which has also deeply marked the religious life of its communities. Baixo Alentejo is proud to be the possessor of a large amount of sacred art of very different kinds, a clear reflection of the area's past. Unlike what has happened in other parts of the country, this set of values (buildings, cultural heritage of various kinds) was preserved almost intact until the second half of the 20th century – a fact that has much to do with a paradoxical quality of the people of the Alentejo, who are progressive politically but conservative in their tastes and traditions. From then onwards, however, the situation has become rather more complicated.
In the 1950s, restoration work was carried out in historical buildings, with no understanding, much of appealing in vain to the authority of the post-Vatican II reforms. Later, new problems appeared, particularly thefts and illegal sales. Though the revolution of 25 April 1974 in general respected churches and chapels, there occurred, nevertheless, abuses, demolitions and illegitimate appropriations. Worse was the swing of the pendulum that followed, permitting the rebuilding of churches without technical support. Thefts also increased. This situation reached its climax at the beginning of the 1980s, with the disappearance of a famous and widely venerated Gothic painting. The recently appointed Bishop of Beja, Dom Manuel Franco Falcão, realized that it was necessary to preserve, at diocesan level, a threatened cultural identity. In 1984 he established the Department of Historical and Artistic Heritage, entrusting it with the mission of fighting for the preservation of the memoria ecclesiæ.
Beja, the second largest but least populous diocese of the country, did not itself have the means to preserve its own monuments and works of art. Nevertheless, a small group of volunteers took up the challenge und the direction of Prof. José António Falcão and created ex nihilo a department for the preservation of the area's religious heritage. Working in partnership with local and national institutions – something initially viewed with suspicion and now seen as perfectly normal – this group set up a pioneering project in order to save the sacred art of Baixo Alentejo. During the course of twenty-five years, the destitution was totally transformed. Amongst the initiatives undertaken, particularly significant are the conservation of churches and the restoration of their artistic treasures, including masterpieces of the diocesan heritage; the creation of a network of museums; the organization of exhibitions in Portugal and abroad; the cultivation of cultural training and promotion; the publication of studies and documentaries; collaboration with the media; the initiation of tourist walks; and the establishment of a festival of sacred music.
The Department of Historical and Artistic Heritage quickly became aware that the chief enemy of sacred art is ignorance. This led it to oppose the "closed doors" strategy still current in the minds of some, an attempt to win audiences who could enjoy the benefits of this heritage – which will survive only if it is shared. The truth is that we are trustees of something that belongs to us, but which belongs also to everyone. Our aim is that future generations, without end, may understand this, each one in its own way. This understanding of such a profound truth led to a collaboration with specialists in the art of contemporary music. Brought to fruition over a long period of time, the project dreamed and organized by José António Falcão has given the happiness of a much-desired gathering around the table where our mutual agape is celebrated. By pouring new wine into old bottles, we believed – thank to the splendid rescue effort of Beja’s heritage team – that the past, the present and the future are no more than different facets of a hope whose limits transcend our own time and space.
- As Vozes do Silêncio. Imaginária Barroca da Diocese de Beja, Beja – Lisboa, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico – Estar Editora, 1997.
- Rosa Mystica – Mariendarstellungen aus dem Südlichen Portugal, Regensburg, Schnell und Steiner, 1999.
- Entre o Céu e a Terra. Arte Sacra da Diocese de Beja, I-III, Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 1998.
- O Alto-Relevo de Santiago combatendo os Mouros da Igreja Matriz de Santiago do Cacém, Beja – Santiago do Cacém, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja – Câmara Municipal de Santiago do Cacém, 2001 (colab.)
- As Formas do Espírito. Arte Sacra da Diocese de Beja, I-III, Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2004.
- Fragmentos de Eternidade. Imagens da Virgem na Arte dos Séculos XVI-XIX, Alpiarça, Casa dos Patudos – Museu de Alpiarça, 2004.
- O Jardim das Hespérides. Pintura Espanhola do Século XIX na Colecção da Casa dos Patudos, Alpiarça, Casa dos Patudos – Museu de Alpiarça, 2005.
- Visões do Invisível – Património Religioso da Margem Esquerda do Guadiana, Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2005.
- A a Z – Arte Sacra da Diocese de Beja, Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2006.
- Filhos do Sol, Filhos da Lua. Aspectos da Criação de Gado Bovino e da Tauromaquia na Casa dos Patudos, Alpiarça, Casa dos Patudos – Museu de Alpiarça, 2006.
- Os Corpos e as Almas. Obras de José Malhoa na Colecção da Casa dos Patudos, Alpiarça, Casa dos Patudos – Museu de Alpiarça, 2006.
- XIX Século XX. Momentos da Pintura Portuguesa na Casa dos Patudos, Alpiarça, Casa dos Patudos – Museu de Alpiarça, 2007.
- Un Río de Agua Pura. Arte Sacro del Sur de Portugal, Borja – Beja, Centro de Estudios Borjanos, Institución “Fernando El Católico” – Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2008.
- O Coração da Terra. Aspectos da Ruralidade na Arte Europeia (Séculos XVII-XX), Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2008.
- Atmosferas, Pessoas, Narrativas. Um Relance sobre a Arte do Ocidente (Séculos XVII-XX), Beja, Departamento do Património Histórico e Artístico da Diocese de Beja, 2009.
- Margarida Ochôa, "Perfis de Longe. José António Falcão, Sábio Peregrino", em Diário do Sul, Évora, 4 de Janeiro de 2010, p. 9.
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