D. Fernão Teles de Meneses’ Tomb and Effigy

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

One of the perks of my PhD fieldwork is being able to visit places I normally wouldn’t be able to. I was recently allowed access to the church of the Monastery (also known as the Palace) of São Marcos, in Coimbra, wherein lies the magnificent effigy of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses. Once again, I’d like to share with you all some of the pictures I took of it, and some notes concerning the life of D. Fernão.

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Overall perspective of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses’ tomb.

A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

Fernão Teles de Meneses, also known as Fernão Teles or Fernão Silva, was the 4th lord of Unhão, Gestaçô, Cepães, Meinedo and Ribeira de Soaz. He was the son of Aires Gomes da Silva, 3rd lord of Vagos, and D. Beatriz de Menezes.

At 17, Fernão took part in the Battle of Alfarrobeira, in which the young king D. Afonso V faced the former regent, Prince D. Pedro. Fernão fought on the Prince’s side alongside his father and older brother, which caused him to lose the rights to his paternal inheritance. Between 1452 and 1454 he fought in Ceuta with his brother, in service of the crown. That service seems have yielded some results: he got back his inheritance, namely his lordship over Unhão, Cepães and Meinedo, as well as Soaço and some land in Santarém. In addition, he was mayor of Sintra Castle, a position he resigned from on April 6, 1461.

Fernão Teles de Meneses was a frequent participant in the campaigns in Morocco. He took part in the conquest of Alcácer-Ceguer in 1458 and the two failed attempts to take Tangier in 1463. In 1464 he left for Catalonia, stopping on Castile to recruit an army for D. Pedro, King of Aragon. Fernão led Portuguese and Castilian men in several fights around Barcelona and Girona. In between a few clashes with the Catalan Generalitat, he was appointed captain-general of Girona, ruling over the villages of Camprodon, Sant Joan de les Abadesses, Ripoll, and the castles of La Guardia, La Roca and Blanca;  as well as captain-general of the province of Ampurterdam and the Bishopric of Girona, later on. After the death of D. Pedro, Fernão returns to Portugal in 1469, and in 1471 he is part of the army that conquers Arzila. New appointments and honours soon follow, one after the other : in 1474, he is recorded as governor of Princess Joana’s household; In 1475, D. Afonso V granted him possession of all islands he and his men were to discover in the Atlantic. In 1476, he part in the Battle of Toro, after which his privileges are confirmed once again.

How odd, then, that a knight with such a long, outstanding military career such as D. Fernão Teles de Meneses would come to die in 1477 after being struck by a stone, in a street fight in Alcácer do Sal. A sadly ironic end to one of the greatest Portuguese knights of the entire 15th century.

THE TOMB AND THE EFFIGY

Fernão Teles de Meneses’ tomb was installed in the church of the Monastery of São Marcos, founded in 1448 by his mother, D. Beatriz de Meneses (who has her own tomb and effigy by the altar). It was made by of one of the best Gothic sculptors in 15th century Portugal, Diogo Pires-o-Velho, and it truly is one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval funerary art in Portugal.

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The harnessed effigy.

The knight’s effigy, depicted fully clad in armour and wearing a surcoat, is set under a draped canopy-shaped arcosolium, after Italian fashion. The level of technical detail of the ensemble – sarcophagus, canopy and effigy – is absolutely phenomenal.

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Detail of the effigy’s vambraces, with subsidiary couter lames and stylized hinges close to the wrist.
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The knight’s arms, sculpted on the surcoat’s sleeves.
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Detail of the throat. Notice the faithfully reproduced points of the doublet’s collar, either side of the maille.

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the sculptor got a few minor details wrong,  such as couters that are  too tight against the arm, or slight deviations from the usual proportions of poleyns and fanplates in relation to actual pieces of armour, for example.

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In spite of their elegant and attractive shape, the couters would need to be less closed and tight to the arm to be fully functional.
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Side view of the poleyn and fanplate. The knee cop itself is slightly rounder and softer than it should actually be. See once again the hinges on the cuisses and greave.
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Detail of the knight’s sabatons.

I must emphasise how finicky these observations are: in spite of these details, D. Fernão Teles de Meneses’ effigy remains an excellent specimen of the armour of Portuguese knights of the third quarter of the 15th century.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Moreno, H. (1980). A Batalha de Alfarrobeira. Antecedentes e Significado Histórico. Coimbra: Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra

Dias, P. (1982). A arquitectura de Coimbra na transição do Gótico para a Renascença. 1490-1540. Coimbra: EPARTUR-Edições Portuguesas de Arte e Turismo, Lda

 

 

 

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