Rococo Variations

The element of fantasy is a recurring theme in the written accounts of visitors to the pink Rococo palace of Queluz. One such description is that of Cecil Beaton, the celebrated photographer who, visited the palace in 1942. His diary he recalls his enchantment at this fantasy world with its Cinderella-like palace, magnolia trees in full bloom, and “startling display of architectural fireworks.” A series of events that took place during the eighteenth century were to transform Queluz from a private retreat, known to few, into a royal palace, the seat of the court as well as the setting for significant moments in Portugal’s history. This change of fortune came about as a result of a dynastic marriage; the earthquake in 1755, which destroyed the heart of Lisbon along with the royal palace of the Paço de Ribeira, and then, in 1794, a fire that destroyed the palace at Ajuda. The palace at Queluz was built by the Infante Dom Pedro (1717–1786), the future Dom Pedro III, younger son of Dom João V. In 1742, Dom Pedro inherited the title of Senhor da Casa do Infantado, granted to all second-born royal sons. Among its properties was a modest hunting lodge at Queluz.

In 1746, Dom Pedro began the first stage of building, which would transform the lodge into a miniature summer palace far from the formality and political intrigues of the court. The work was carried out by Mateus Vicente de Oliveira (1706–1786), architect to the Casa do Infantado. The patron’s intention at this stage is revealed most clearly in the orientation of the principal façade. This elegant ceremonial façade is turned inwards towards the gardens, emphasizing the enclosed private nature of the new palace. It would also provide a theatrical backdrop for the lavish festivities and fireworks displays staged in the garden. The façade was decorated from 1764 by Jean-Baptiste Robillion (d. 1782), a French artist who is known to have worked for the eminent Parisian goldsmith, Thomas Germain. Robillion was to play a decisive role in defining the character of Queluz. His first task was to design the carved stone ornament in the form of garlands and baskets overflowing with flowers, which are set above the windows.

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