João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos, 1st Count of Ameal

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The Count of Ameal
Count of Ameal.jpg
The 1st Count of Ameal around 1900.
Spouse(s) D. Maria Amélia de Sande Magalhães Mexia Vieira da Mota
Father João Correia Ayres de Campos
Mother Leonor da Conceição
Born 5 February 1844
Coimbra, Portugal
Died 13 July 1920
Coimbra, Portugal
Occupation Politician, art collector, bibliophile

João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos (his surname also graphed Aires de Campos in contemporary Portuguese), 1st Count of Ameal, GCC, (Coimbra, February 5, 1847 – July 13, 1920) was a Portuguese politician and antiquarian, best known as a great art collector, maecenas and bibliophile. He is renowned chiefly as having assembled one of Portugal's largest and most important private art collections, as well as what was at the time the largest private library in the country;[1] his collections are also famous for having been auctioned en masse after his death in 1920, leading to the largest auction recorded in the Iberian peninsula and one of the largest in Europe at the time. Several pieces belonging to him have since been incorporated in the collections of the Louvre, the Prado, and the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon.

Early life[edit]

João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos was born out of wedlock in Coimbra, the son of João Correia Ayres de Campos and Leonor da Conceição. His father, a renowned magistrate and antiquarian who for a number of years represented Coimbra in the Portuguese National Assembly, only saw to his official legitimation in 1860.[2] From his father the Count of Ameal would eventually inherit a sizeable collection of manuscripts and early printed books as well as a small number of antiquities and objets d'art, a legacy which would later form the basis of his own private collection.[3]

As a young man, João Maria studied Law at the University of Coimbra – following on the footsteps of his father, who had pursued the same course of studies there in the 1830s. In 1876, he married Maria Amélia de Sande Mexia Vieira da Mota; issuing from an old landed family with a considerable tradition in the areas of magistrature and academia, she was the niece and sole heir of Carlos Pinto Vieira da Mota, 1st Count of Juncal, who would distinguish himself in the last decades of the nineteenth century as the head of the Portuguese Supreme Court of Justice. They had four children:

  • João de Sande Magalhães Mexia Salema Ayres de Campos, 2nd Count of Ameal (1877)
  • Maria de Sande Mexia Ayres de Campos (1880)
  • Jorge de Sande Mexia Ayres de Campos (1886)
  • Pedro de Sande Mexia Ayres de Campos Vieira da Mota, 2nd Count of Juncal (1889)

Political career and honours[edit]

The former palace of the Counts of Ameal at Rua da Sofia, in Coimbra. The building now serves as the city's court house - the Palácio da Justiça.

Having obtained his bachelor's degree in 1874 and his licentiate in 1875, João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos joined the Partido Regenerador, a conservative political party opposed to the Partido Progressista during the Liberal Monarchy. Rising to prominence within the party's local chapter, he was elected mayor of his hometown of Coimbra (at the time the country's third city in size and importance) in 1893, serving in this position until 1895. Throughout this decade he also served intermittently as deputy to the Parliament of Portugal, where he was a member of the parliamentary committees for Public Administration (1893 and 1894), Commerce and the Arts (1894) and Statistics (1897).

Over the course of his public life, João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos would be awarded the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Christ, a knighthood of the Royal Order of the Immaculate Conception of Vila Viçosa and both the Gold and Silver Palms of the French Ordre des Palmes Académiques.[4] In 1890, he was also received as a fellow of the Lisbon Geographic Society.[5]

Upon his retirement from active political life in 1901, he was created Count of Ameal by king Charles I of Portugal - a title which refers to the small hamlet in the outskirts of Coimbra where the count's paternal ascendants had their roots and family home.[6] On the same occasion, his eldest son - a politician and diplomat - was granted the courtesy title of Viscount of Ameal.

To embellish his coat-of-arms, he chose the motto Ars Super Omnia (Art Above All Things), a reflection of his aesthetic inclination and long-standing taste for the collection and fruition of artistic objects.

The art collection[edit]

A wealthy land-owner whose property had substantially increased in value due to the city's quick urban expansion - and moved also by the high bank credit which he enjoyed on account of his prominent political position – João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos began to amass his large collection in the 1880s. Having bought the 16th-century buildings of the old friary and college of Saint Thomas Aquinas (formerly one of the religious halls of the University of Coimbra and a base of the Dominican Order) he transformed them into a vast palatial residence, with the complex's original Renaissance-style cloyster as a centerpiece. Over the years, its rooms, several of which still retained their original gothic form despite the building's soberer classical exterior, would be filled with precious furniture, Old Master paintings and about 30.000 rare books, while the palace grew into a vibrant cultural salon.

Among his collection of painting, there was one canvas then attributed to Caravaggio (Saint John the Baptist), one large drawing by Rembrandt (Head of a Man), a large Glorification of the Virgin by Rubens, a Portrait of a Man by Philippe de Champagne and two portraits of saints by Zurbarán. The collection further contained two canvases by Murillo, three by Greuze, four by Ribera and one canvas and four aquatints by Goya, as well as a large collection of watercolors by Turner and Delacroix.

The collection also comprised a considerable selection of oil paintings and drawings by Salvator Rosa, an artist then virtually unknown in Portugal but one of the Count's favourite painters.

An admirer of contemporary Portuguese painters, particularly of the Realist school that was then at the height of its popularity, the Count of Ameal also owned a large selection of canvases and drawings by José Malhoa, Columbano and António Silva Porto. Of the latter, he possessed the famous The Boy and His Sheep, now in the Soares dos Reis Museum in Porto.

Towards the end of his life, the Count came to assemble a large collection of gothic sculptutre and painting, as well as one of late-medieval and early-modern Portuguese religious painting (the latter chiefly purchased after the suppression of the property of the religious orders by the Republicans in 1910).

Another important part of the Count's collection was his selection of Islamic faience, mostly Iberian and late-medieval.

Upon the Count's death in 1920, his widow decided to sell most of the collection – probably because the family was starting to struggle with financial difficulties due to some of the Count's last and more costly purchases – as well as to donate the palace that housed it to a religious order. For that purpose, a major auction was hastily organized in July 1921, the biggest event of the kind in the history of auctioneering in Portugal. Both the British Museum and the Louvre sent emissaries to the event, the latter having acquired a large amount of porcelain and most of the Count's collection of Islamic faience.

Death and burial[edit]

The 1st Count of Ameal died in Coimbra in 1920, aged 74. He had designed for himself, his wife and his descendants an exquisite octagonal gothic pantheon in Coimbra's cemetery of Conchada, which had been completed in 1899. The 10-meter-tall monument, comprising a relatively small funeral chapel at ground level and a crypt with six floors beneath, has been considered one of the masterpieces of Portuguese gothic revival. Bearing a number of allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy, the structure is adorned with eagles, griffins and lilies, its spire being topped by an over-lifesize statue of Beatrice. The works on this monument were led by sculptor Costa Mota Tio, who had been responsible for the revivalist reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

The pantheon is still in use by the Count's descendants today.


  • The name of the Rua Aires de Campos, a street in central Coimbra, is often thought to refer to the Count of Ameal; in reality, its name alludes to his father, Dr. João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos, who was himself a distinguished local politician and amateur archaeologist.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Various authors, "Conde do Ameal" in Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira, vol. II, Lisboa, 1965; p. 312: "O ilustre titular foi um dos nossos mais criteriosos coleccionadores, reünindo no seu palácio à Rua da Sofia um verdadeiro museu de preciosidades em artes [...] e aumentando a já notável livraria que o seu pai lhe legou, tornando-a uma das melhores bibliotecas privadas do país."
  2. ^ Paulo Duarte de Almeida, Pedras de Armas nos Cemitérios de Coimbra (Instituto de Genealogia e Heráldica da Universidade do Porto, 2012), pp. 80 and 87.
  3. ^ Alberto de Sousa Matos Sequeira et al., Collections Comte de Ameal: Catalogue Descriptif (Lisbon, 1921): "Feu Mr. le Comte d'Ameal, dr. João Maria Correia Ayres de Campos, avait dejà herité de ses ancêtres le culte de l'art par le culte du livre. Son père le dr. João Correia Ayres de Campos, fondateur de la section d'Archéologie de l'Institut de Coïmbre, était un des plus illustres bibliophiles et bibliographes portugais [...]."
  4. ^ Various authors, "Conde do Ameal" in Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira, vol. II, Lisboa, 1965; p. 312.
  5. ^ Almeida, Pedras de Armas, p. 82.
  6. ^ Ibid.
  • Various authors, Collections Comte de Ameal, Coimbra, 1921.
  • Various authors, Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira, vol. 2, Lisboa, 1965.