History of Portuguese Filigree

The origin

The precise origin of the filigree technique has not yet been fully clarified, however it is known that many examples have been discovered throughout the world, with the first pieces having appeared in Portugal, between 1200 BC and 600 BC, with advances in understanding the behavior of metals, the identification of metallic alloys and control over the temperatures required for welding, which contribute to the improvement of manufacturing and ornamentation techniques, from which filigree was born, which left a significant mark in the history of Portuguese goldsmithing throughout of years.

There are references to goldsmithing in Portugal in the 11th and 12th centuries, and knowledge about the pieces produced is very limited, however it is known that filigree was closely linked to erudite works of sacred art, given the intense medieval religious feeling and the influence of the Romanesque and Gothic architecture that existed during this period.

Portuguese goldsmithing achieved important technical and aesthetic advances in the 17th century, although with a lot of Spanish influence, due to their domination over Portugal between 1580 and 1640. In the 18th century, with the benefit of a growing economy leveraged by precious metals and stones from During the Discoveries, goldsmith production experienced an exponential increase, largely due to orders from the monarchy and the clergy, with a markedly baroque aesthetic combined with a high quality technical level.

The Popularization of Portuguese Filigree

During the 18th century, filigree ended up becoming more accessible and popular, no longer being exclusive to the sophisticated objects that had characterized it until then, gaining autonomy from the 19th century onwards, particularly in the north of the country, especially in Porto, Gondomar and Póvoa. of Lanhoso - with the latter two continuing to be the main centers of this traditional art - with the characteristics of the pieces from these centers being consistently recognized as representative of the traditional typology of Portuguese filigree, from which they spread to other areas of the country, through customs and festivals in each region.

The city of Viana do Castelo is an unavoidable landmark in the dissemination and preservation of this art, particularly through the festivals of Nossa Senhora d'Agonia.

Portuguese Filigree is considered the ancient art of "gilding" women in this region of Minho.

The exquisite pieces of jewelry created with this technique have long been used as valuable accessories for special occasions, being an integral part and enriching the traditional Portuguese costumes of Minho and Douro Litoral, the most famous of which are those of Viana do Castelo.

The heart of Viana, seen in medals and earrings, is the most recognized "mythical" piece of the Viana tradition. Like other traditional pieces, it is highly crafted in filigree and is so meticulous and delicate that it almost looks unreal.

The unique look of Portuguese filigree comes from the temperament of its people - representing themes close to their heart, such as religion and love, nature and the sea - and has become an important part of the sumptuous jewels of Portuguese heritage, as it represents its history, culture and tradition.

The Technique

Portuguese Filigree is a purely manual art, which requires very patient, imaginative work and great dexterity on the part of the artisans.

This art works with delicate braided metal wires (gold, silver or other metals), placed under a heat source so that they soften and can be worked on by artisans, who create elaborate and elegant pieces of art, such as pendants, earrings, bracelets, rings. , necklaces and others.

The frame or skeleton of the filigree pieces is made by goldsmiths / filigree makers, but their true value lies largely in the work of the fillers, the artisans responsible for skillfully filling the pieces with delicate twisted threads, which are wrapped around the traditional "S" patterns, spirals, swirls, frills, scales, snails, snails or cornucopias - always sinuously, in a profusion of curvilinear movements.

Portuguese filigree technique

This technique is in itself a very meticulous art, and the artisans who master it derive enormous pleasure from each piece they complete.

The main manufacturing centers for Portuguese filigree are located in Gondomar and Póvoa de Lanhoso.

Credit: Municipality of Gondomar