Invitation figures are life-size representations of people made from azulejo tiles; usually cut-outs or projecting upwards from the azulejo panel. They were to be found in building entrances in poses denoting courtesy, guarding, or guiding, in the space which one was invited to enter.
The origins of these singular figures in Portugal might be traced to about 1707 – 1708 by Willemsz van der Kloet (1666 – 1747) in his Amsterdam factory for the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazareth.
At the end of the 17th century, Portuguese output was naïve and in small-scale. Dutch tiles became popular here because of their technical perfection, the way in which they revived iconography, and the academic skill of the painting. They became fashionable status symbols for Portuguese society, which was opening up to cosmopolitan and European tastes. A time came when Portuguese painters with academic training and knowledge of design and perspective – some of them were ceiling decorators – began painting tile panels, which they sometimes signed and dated. Thus, they introduced broadly based subject matters such as hunting scenes and courtiers, and episodes from the life of Christ and the saints, into religious and palatial settings. Portuguese invitation figures are important scene-setters in everyday spaces. They are eloquent characters from the theatre of life in grandiloquent settings, who call upon us to participate with our senses, in a way that only Baroque imagination was able to produce.
The entire 18th century and the first half of the 19th century shot through with these interacting figures. They illustrate the Baroque tastes of King João’s reign and the Rococo of the Pombaline period. As an identifying mark of Portuguese artistic culture invitation figures returned in the 20th century, in more modern taste.
However, it was Júlio Pomar who brought other invitation figures into the modern day, now as sarcastic or grotesque portraits with comments to match. Using the conventional rhetoric of the format, this element of Portuguese cultural heritage is very recognizable. The painter finds freedom through his impulsive design and his very individual, assertive and lucid humor. His figures are clowns who appear jocose and ironic, who love to fool around, and in this they reflect the best of the Portuguese mentality, which is mirrored in extraordinary 17th century Portuguese azulejos such as the “macacarias” at Fronteira Palace in Lisbon, in which all of the people portrayed are monkeys or the various examples exhibited at National Tile Museum (Lisbon).
João Castel-Branco Pereira (2009) In Exhibition catalogue Júlio Pomar. Figuras de Convite held in Casa Rural da Vila Romana de Milreu with Galeria Ratton production (from September 25th, 2009 to January 3rd, 2010)
Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Ratton