The Saint Vincent Panels, A Broad Overview

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

The six Saint Vincent Panels. From left to right: Panel of the Friars, Panel of the Fishermen, Panel of the Prince, Panel of the Archbishop, Panel of the Knights, and the Panel of the Relic.

The Saint Vincent Panels, a set of six oil and tempera paintings on wood, are probably the most controversial pieces of Portuguese painting ever painted – remarkable, considering that they are more than four hundred years old. Because they are one of the very few visual sources we have for the whole of the 15th century, and because they are one of the absolutely essential sources for the period I have chosen to reenact, I would like to explain why I consider them to be a work from the period 1465-1470. My analysis (if you can call it that) will be (or will try to be) brief; I shall endeavour not to dwell too much on details, and provide as many sources (both Portuguese and foreign) as possible. Due to the lack, to my layman’s eyes, of decisive information regarding some of the other depictions, my analysis will be based on three of the six panels: The so-called Panel of the Prince, Panel of the Archbishop, and Panel of the Knights.

My approach makes plentiful use of the information provided by Dagoberto Markl in his excellent 1988’s O Retábulo de S. Vicente da Sé de Lisboa e os Documentos and the data presented by António Salvador Marques on his website “Painéis de S. Vicente de Fora “(although it diverges in broad considerations and repudiates much of the symbological analysis carried out by the author, which I consider to be contaminated a priori by a constant need to find hidden mysteries and meanings in the smallest of details). This does not mean that this type of analysis cannot be carried out. On the contrary: it must be done. There are too many peculiar elements in the Panels that are worthy of a more in-depth investigation. What I’m not pleased with is the way Salvador Marques presents some of his theories without any basis other than speculation. I will try, to the best of my efforts, to avoid referring to any of the previously advanced theories, except to convey important data.

Why Is Dating The Panels So Important?

Simple answer: for someone like me, who wants to reenact a man-of-arms from about 1470, what better models are there for Portuguese armaments and fashions, Pastrana Tapestries notwithstanding, other than those on the Panels? If 1470 proves to be wrong, these models cannot be used to that effect.

The Wood

In 2001, at the behest of the Portuguese Institute of Conservation and Restoration (Instituto Português de Conservação e Restauro), Professor Peter Klein, of the University of Hamburga, carried out a study of the Baltic oak of the panels. This study brought to light the best possible scientific fact about the polyptych: it dated the wood, with some degree of certainty, to around 1445. We therefore have a solid fact, a terminus post quem: the year 1445.

It should be noted that this is the date on which the wood was cut. Nothing more. It seems to me difficult for a reputed, well-trained painter not to wait for fresh-cut wood to dry for a while when it is to be painted on. But that’s by the by, since I have no sources to support this thought.

Maille and Steel

A great detail that most of the Panels’ “scholars” that I have encountered so far (among others: Jorge Filipe de Almeida, António Salvador Marques, Alvor-Silves, Clemente Baeta) seem to have ignored or glossed over is that of the armament depicted in the polyptych, namely in the three panels I highlighted above. Consider, for example, the armour worn in the Panel of the Archbishop:

Painéis 5.png

There are scant examples of these types of cuirass before, or around, 1450 (something we can confirm by consulting the photographic specimens listed in Doctor Matthias Goll’s thesis, Iron Documents. Interdisciplinary studies on the technology of late medieval european plate armour production between 1350 and 1500). These are hybrids: the soft, rounded profile of Italian armour merged with the decorative and functional elements (fluting) of German Gothic styles. They are also Iberian models (in the case of the cuirass on the right-hand side of the painting), as the famous “fish-tail” plackart attests to (Nicolle, p. 20). There are, however, other very similar cuirasses I could point out: those present in the Pastrana Tapestries, and that of Duarte de Almeida, the Decepado, King Afonso V personal standard bearer.

Painéis 112
Left, knight in Disembarkation at Asilah; centre, knight in Assault on Asilah; right, Duarte de Almeida’s armor, preserved as a trophy of the Battle of Toro in the Cathedral of Toledo, Spain [1].
A comparison with these models – visual models, on the one hand, and an extant specimen, on the other – yields an interesting timeline for this debate: the tapestries were woven shortly after 1471, to celebrate the invasion of Morocco that same year; Duarte de Almeida’s armour comes from the Battle of the Toro, fought on March 1, 1476. However, just as the Pastrana men-at-arms wouldn’t have acquired their armour the day before the invasion, so too wouldn’t Duarte de Almeida have commissioned his the night before Toro. Going by these examples, then, it would be safe to say that this style of Portuguese armour was around in 1470-1475.

But a good stylistic comparison looks at specimens and sources other than local ones. Let us look at the contemporary examples from the other side of the border which also incorporate these characteristics. The earliest example I can find of these “fish-tail” cuirasses in Spain is the effigy of Garci Laso de la Vega, who died in 1456:

Garci Laso de la Vega (1422?-1456) – Convent of Santa Clara, Zafra (Extremadura), Spain [2].
We can clearly make out the plackart’s scalloped edge, though the plackart itself is still more or less “wedge”-shaped, as per normal in both Italian and German styles – something which no longer happens in these two later examples:

Painéis 111
Left: a detail of the funerary monument of Alfonso de Castela, from ca. 1489-1493, in the Miraflores Charterhouse, Burgos [3]; Right: detail of Juan de Vargas’s effigy, from ca. 1515, in the Convent of Santa Isabel, Barcelona [4].
Here we can see the same, much wider scalloping, and the shape of the plackart reaching towards the sternum – very similar to the ones in the Tapestries, although they do not reach the edge of the neck, as per the cuirasses in the Panels and Duarte de Almeida’s cuirass. Going by Castilian examples, we could date the Panels to any date between 1455 and 1515 [5].

What about the remaining defensive equipment? It is difficult to pinpoint a specific date for the style of brigandines worn by the figures on either side of the Panel of the Archbishop – mainly due to their enormous, peculiar rivets, with no known counterpart in the few brigandines that have survived to the present day. The same can be said of the maille, an unbroken tradition amongst the Portuguese soldiery until the middle of the sixteenth century. But there are other elements we can make use of:

Painéis 113.png

The profuse fluting on the left warrior’s cuisses and poleyns is not matched by any historical specimens prior to 1465-1470 (and even in 1470 they are somewhat precocious, compared to the typical decoration of Gothic armour – not strange when we consider that this is Portuguese aristocracy we’re talking about, with an almost immediate access to what best was made in Europe at the time). The warrior on the right, on the other hand, seems to be wearing a quite old-fashioned splinted arm harness (with a style harking back to the 14th century), made up of metallic bars along the whole of the arm, complemented by maille and a couter. Whilst this piece does not invalidate any of the aforegiven dates for the Panels, the cuisses and poleyns do establish a cut-off date: 1465-1470, for that style of fluting.

The Portuguese crab sword

We can make the same comparison with the swords displayed in the Panels. I’ve already had the opportunity to talk a little about the Portuguese crab sword (here). I will do it again for a simple reason: all extant specimens – in this instance, Castilian ones – date from 1460/1470 onwards.

Collars and doublets

António de Oliveira Marques tells us, about doublets in Portugal, that the garment  “might or might not have a collar, although it appeared more frequently during the second half of the fifteenth century, in particular the standing collar, which was quite high and fastened tightly” (p. 61, my italics). Portuguese fashion followed Burgundian influences, often creating, in the words of Susan Reed, “collars that were relatively high, curved away from the base of the throat, and often standing away from the neck of the wearer”. As we can see from the following details, this is undoubtedly the most suitable description for the collars shown in the Panels.

Painéis 114
Left: detail of the Panel of the Archbishop; Centre: Portrait of Francesco d’Este, by Rogier van der Weyden, ca. 1460; Right: detail of the portrait of Don Iñigo de Mendoza, by Jorge Inglés, ca. 1470.

Still on the Burgundian influence, Oliveira Marques tells us that “Around 1465-1470, the Burgundian style made fashionable doublets with a V-opening to the waist, laced across with strings.  Some of the pourpoints , as can be seen in the St. Vincente [sic] panels (…), have already developed in this fashion” (1971, page 60). This is once again confirmed by the details:

Painéis 115
Left: detail of the Panel of the Archbishop; Centre: portrait of James of Savoy, by Hans Memling, ca. 1470; Right: detail of Portrait of a Man with an Arrow, by Hans Memling, from ca. 1475.

But Oliveira Marques gives us yet another piece of information. He says that “Por volta de 1460 as mangas dos gibões começam a usar-se com fendas, deixando ver a camisa. Assim se podem observar nas figuras dos Painéis” [Around 1460, the doublet’s sleeves begin showing some slashing, allowing for the shirt to poke through, as can be seen in the characters in the Panels] ( 2010, p. 61, with my own translation). Oliveira Marques seems to regard the Panels as an unmistakable model of Portuguese fashions of 1460-1470.

Beards and hairs

Until 1450-1460, the predominant haircut in Portugal was the “chamorro” – a short bowl cut, a la Henry V (see Garci Laso de la Vega’s effigy, above). From about 1465 onwards, according to Oliveira Marques (citing the Panels as an example), fashion moves towards “long hair falling over the forehead down to the eye line and to the nape of the neck” (1971, p. 95). Oliveira Marques further adds, in the next sentence: “About 1480, it was shoulder length, and continued to be worn this way until the beginning of the sixteenth century”. We thus establish a timeline for the vast majority of haircuts in the Panels: 1460 – 1480. This timeline is confirmed by its the exceptions: older characters – such as those seen in the background, or the kneeling knight in the Panel of Knights, or the man in the chaperon – all show a chamorro or, at the most, a transitional cut.

Painéis 3
From left to right: chamorro cut; “transitional” cut, with long hair at the nape of the neck; standard 1460-1480 cut.

As for facial hair, António de Oliveira Marques also gives us a valuable hint: referring to the fact that a clean-shaven face is the norm in fourteenth century Portugal, he points out King Duarte as one of the known exceptions: “Duarte (1433-1438) appears to have worn a moustache, a style which perhaps lasted for a good many years (…)”(1971, p. 95) As a source, we are referred to Artur da Mota Alves’ transcription, in Os Painéis de S. Vicente de Lisboa num Códice da Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro: “El rrej dom duarte esta na sacristia de S. Domingos em uma taúoa pequena de altura de hu couodo, E esta o porpo (sic) todo posto que a taboa he pequena açima dos almarios onde se Reuestem os frades per dizer missa não tinha mais barba que bigodes” [King Dom Duarte is in the Sacristy of St. Domingos in a small plank a cubit in height. And his entire body is in it, for the plank is small on top of the cupboards where the friars Dress for mass [and the body shows] no beard other than moustaches] (Oliveira Marques, 2010, p. 268, with my own italics and very loose translation). The fact that both brothers might have worn the same style of facial hair nothwithstanding, there is only one figure thus moustachioed in the Panels : the man with the chaperon.

The man with the chaperon

Let us address the greatest of all controversies, the real “elephant in the room”: the identity of the man with the chaperon. Almost all of the identification theories put forward thus far have been based on the comparison between the Panel’s purported portrait of Prince Henry, and his supposed portrait in the manuscript of Gomes de Zurara’s The Chronicle of Discovery and Conquest of Guinea. The resemblance is inescapable. The problem is being certain that the latter portrait is in fact the portrait of the Navigator, as made popular by the Estado Novo, and known to all Portuguese.

Contextually speaking, it seems easy enough to claim that the portrait in the Chronicle is that of the Prince. Not only is the Chronicle a personal tribute to him, but the portrait is shown placed above his personal motto. There are, however, several pictorial and stylistic incongruities in the manuscript (a detailed analysis, made by António Salvador Marques, can be found here). These incongruities do not prove or detract from any theory, but they need to be considered – as does the fact that, since the deeds in the Chronicle were made during King Duarte’s reign, it wouldn’t have been that strange to have a portrait of his in the manuscript.

Then there is the question of the descriptions made by chroniclers – not of the Prince, but of King Duarte. Once again, António Salvador Marques lists them in full for our perusal, here. To Salvador Marques’s data, of which I have already mentioned the moustaches, I will add only one bit of information: the style of enormous chaperon worn by the character (not to mention his clothing) fell out of fashion in Portugal after circa 1430-1440 (Oliveira Marques, 1971, page 69). Prince Henry died in 1460. D. Duarte died in 1438. How likely is it that a royal personage would be portrayed, unlike everyone else in the polyptych, wearing completely outdated garments and headwear? On the contrary, if Duarte were included in the scene, wouldn’t the artist try depict him with clothes, accessories, haircuts, and effects that were contemporary to the person being portrayed, as he does for other characters in the Panels?

The kneeling knight

If the man with the chaperon is D. Duarte, is Prince Henry present in the polyptych, then? I believe so: in the Panel of Knights. In spite of some useless symbolic statements in Salvador Marques’s analysis, it seems to me that his analysis, here, the obvious, humbled condition of the kneeling knight undoubtedly stands out. Why humbled? This is the only instance in which I will admit some direct symbolismin my analysis: Prince Henry disgraced after the Battle of Alfarrobeira, apologises for his mistakes. Prince Henry, imperfect knight, has his sword’s pommel twisted, and his garter (of the eponymous Order) hanging loose.

But that is a symbolical analysis of the figure. As I stated in my introduction, I want to concern myself, as far as possible, only with concrete and observable facts. If the kneeling knight is Prince Henry, is there any similarity between this and other contemporary depictions of him? Fortunately, we have the Prince’s tomb in the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory, with a detailed effigy:

Painéis 7
Left: the kneeling knight, from the Panel of Knights; Right: detail from Prince Henry’s effigy, on his tomb at Saint Mary of the Victory [6].
These similarities aside – which seem notorious to me -, there is still the aforementioned question of the Prince’s description in the chronicles: Prince Henry is described as having white hair. The man with the chaperon shows no white hair. The kneeling knight, however, does.

No element of this “analysis” of the man in the chaperon or Prince Henry is new. All that I have shared is explored in the utmost detail, with a myriad of sources, in Dagobert Markl’s magnificent book, whose reading I highly recommend.

Family symmetries and the “infant”

In my opinion, therefore, the man in the chaperon is King Duarte. If he is indeed King Duarte, and the kneeling knight is Prince Henry, then we have a post-Alfarrobeira date (1449).

With Duarte on the Panel of the Prince, we can now try and unravel some of the symmetries on the panel (the same symmetry that also exists on the Panel of the Archbishop). We have, around the central figure, two pairs of opposing figures (men opposed to women), and one child. Already since the sixteenth century,

If we’re to believe in the famous Rio de Janeiro manuscript, the polyptych has been considered to be the portrait of a royal family since at least the 16th century (Oliveira Marques, 2010, p. 268). If we consider the kneeling prince in front of King Duarte to be Afonso – king at the time – we have two monarchs occupying the righthand side of this panel. The figuer’s physical aspect is perfectly in keeping with 1470, when Afonso was 38 years old. His clothes and effects, too, are those of royalty. If this is a family portrait, then it is legitimate to proceed with the hypothesis that the women diametrically opposed to monarchs are their respective queens: D. Leonor of Aragon for King Duarte, D. Isabel of Coimbra for Afonso, both of whom died before the painting was made (D. Leonor in 1445, D. Isabel in 1455), but both with the look they would have had at the time of their deaths (like Duarte and Prince Henry).

Now, if we assume this hypothesis to be correct, with no need for leaps of logic and no forced symbolism, it is easy for us to answer the question: who is the child in the portrait? No longer a very small child, but certainly not yet a teenager on the cusp of adulthood – an “infant” still, therefore. Let’s say about 10 to 15 years of age, then. What 10/15year-old-child would be worthy enough of being included in a royal portrait? D. João II, son of Afonso V and D. Isabel, heir to the Crown, was born in 1455. He would have been 10-years-old in 1465, 15 in 1470. The Panel of Prince is thus an official portrait of three generations of Portuguese monarchs, a portait which brings together in remembrance deceased family members.

The Panels in Portuguese and European Painting

Alvor-Silves suggests that dating the Panels to 1445 would be premature in the wider context of European International Gothic, in spite of the existence of previous artists, such as Jan van Eyck, and previous works of comparable technique. It is also seems unwise to me to assert the presence of such remarkable works of International Gothic so early in Portugal in 1445, in spite of van Eyck’s two visits to the kingdom (one in 1428-1429, the other ten years later). Considering the relationship between Portugal and Burgundy (mainly between 1430 and 1470) and the existence of masters like Jean Fouquet; and compared to other countries and artists (Alvor-Silves gives us Mantegna as an example; I’d go with Pedro Berruguete, for example, or Bartolomé Bermejo), it seems valid to me to say that this style would have been established in Portugal, without any need for precociousness, around 1450-1460. This is only a layman’s observation, not supported by any source I have at hand.

Final estimation

Let us see what we can gather, in terms of probable dates, out of my suggestions and factual data:

Dendrochronological Dating: at least 1445 (absolute terminus post quem).

Hoplological Dating: at least 1465-1500 (hoplological terminus ante quem).

Sumptuary Dating: 1460-1480 (sumptuary terminus ante quem).

Prince Henry Dating: post-1449 (Battle of Alfarrobeira).

D. João II Dating: 1465-1470.

Artistic Dating: about 1450-1460.

In medium virtus, we obtain dates between 1460-1480 for the making of the Panels. If we believe that the child portrayed is D. João II, then this period is reduced, without prejudice to any of the remaining data, to 1465-1470.

Impossible Certainties

To each their own. The “Question of the Panels”, as it is known in Portuguese society, will continue to spark heated discussions for several years, because it is impossible to validate every last detail  with scientific certainty. As Alvor-Silves tells us: the important thing “é não forçar o global aos detalhes. Os detalhes não podem condicionar o global a algo inverosímil, podem é ajudar a encontrar o contexto correcto. Mas, no final, todos os detalhes devem ser colocados no seu lugar, ou seja, devem aparecer como detalhes, e não como peças principais” (is not to make the broad picture conform to the details. The details on their own cannot condition the broad picture to be something implausible, they can instead help find the right context. In the end, however, all details should fall into place, that is, they should appear as details, not as main pieces) [a very loose translation of mine]. Some of my observations are as broad as possible, and all of them work well together. An analysis of how every detail in this theory falls in place could be made, but not by me. I finish this post doing  I wanted to do: stating some of the general reasons why – to me – the Saint Vincent Panels were made between 1465-1470.


[1] Photograph retrieved from

[2] Photograph retrieved from

[3] Photograph retrieved from

[4] Photograph retrieved from

[5] See, in this regard, Mann, J. (1933). “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century” in Archaeologia, V. 83,  pp. 285-305.

[6] Photograph retrieved from

[7] Regarding the subject, see “Istoria e Retrato no Retábulo de S. Vicente de Nuno Gonçalves”, by Fernando Pereira).


Markl, D. (1988). O retábulo de S. Vicente da Sé de Lisboa e os Documentos. Lisboa: Editorial Caminho.

Nicolle, D. (1998). The Fall of Granada 1481-1492. London: Osprey Books.

Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros.

von Barghahn, B. (2013).  Jan Van Eyck And Portugal’s “Illustrious Generation”. London: Pindar Press


(ca. 1475). Assault on Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from

(ca. 1475). Disembarkation in Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from

(ca. 1475). Siege of Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from

(ca. 1475). The Taking of Tangier [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from

Gonçalves, N. (ca. 1470). Saint Vincent Panels [oil and tempera on wood]. Lisbon: National Museum of Ancient Art. Retrieved froméis_de_São_Vicente_de_Fora#/media/File:Lagos40_kopie.jpg

Inglés, J. (ca. 1460-1470). Portrait of Don Iñigo de Mendoza [oil on wood]. Retrieved from

Memling, H. (ca. 1475). Portrait of a Man with An Arrow [oil on oak wood]. Washington: National Gallery of Art. Retrieved from

Memling, H. (ca. 1470). Portrait of Jacques of Savoy [oil on wood]. Retrieved from

van der Weyden, R. (ca. 1460). Portrait of Francesco d’Este [óleo em madeira]. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved from


15th c. spanish style of plate armor (2015). Topic thread on the MyArmoury forum. Retrieved from

Almeida, J. (2016). Painéis de Nuno Gonçalves à luz da razão. Retrieved from

Alvor-Silves (2012). Peças dos Painéis de S. Vicente. Retrieved from

Goll, M. (2014). Iron Documents. Interdisciplinary studies on the technology of late medieval european plate armour production between 1350 and 1500. Heidelberg: Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg. Retrieved from

Mann, J. (1933). “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century” in Archaeologia, V. 83,  pp. 285-305. London: Society of Antiquaries of London. Retrieved from [with automatic translation tools]

Marques, A. (2010). Painéis de S. Vicente de Fora. Retrieved from

Pereira, F. (2010). “Istoria e Retrato no Retábulo de S. Vicente de Nuno Gonçalves”. Retrieved from

Reed, S. (2004). “15th Century Men’s Doublets: An Overview”.  Retrieved from



One thought on “The Saint Vincent Panels, A Broad Overview

  1. Im really interested in the effigy of Garci Laso de la Vega. I was suprised that armor is dated that early in the second half of the 15th century i thought it wouldve been a lot older maybe 70s-80s.

    Is this a rare armor or is it typical for the iberian peninsula? It looks very english, war of the roses-esque. Are the spaulders symmetrical? Ive seen symmetry on some of the iberian effiges such as the joao de Albuquerque (one youre very familiar with), Don Luis Pimentel y Pacheco, pedro de acuna, and sancho davila. Would they have been English influenced or is it just something that was their style?


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