|João Baptista Ribeiro
Painter, drawer, printer, drawing professor and director of the
Polytechnic Academy of Porto
João Baptista Ribeiro was born on April 5, 1790 in S. João de Arroios, Vila Real. Son of António José Ribeiro and Isabel Maria he learned how to read and write in the Convento de S. Francisco (a monastery) in his neighbourhood.
He soon showed a clear artistic talent, especially for drawing. He used to sketch on his hometown walls and these sketches caught the attention of both the Archbishop of Braga, Frei Caetano Brandão and Morgado de Mateus, two illustrious men that tried, in the beginning without much success, to provide him with better education. On March 21, 1802 he was eventually taken under the care of Dr. Frei Jacinto de Sousa who tutored him.
From then on his affective family would be D. Albina Emília’s, the lady that accomodated him. Although not living with his family he kept in touch with his brother, Luís José Ribeiro, the Baron of Palma and his nephews, Luís, Sebastião and Maria da Glória, in Lisbon.
João Baptista Ribeiro started his school life in Porto. On May 20, 1803 he entered the Sketching and Drawing Class of General Company of Alto Douro Viticulture. This class was supported by the most prestigious city institutions. There he was a student of Domingos Vieira, the Drawing Class substitute professor and of his son, Francisco Vieira, known as Portuense, the effective drawing professor.
Between 1803 and 1810 he studied with José Teixeira Barreto and Raimundo Joaquim da Costa in the Aula de Desenho (Drawing Class) of the Royal Academy of Maritime and Trade Affairs of the City of Porto. Vieira Portuense, the most renowned artist in the Academy wouldn’t teach him much because he died in 1805. But João Baptista learned well with Domingos Sequeira (Domingos António Sequeira), his Drawing professor from 1806 on until the end of the course, and who had him as his favourite student.
His first art works that came to our knowledge are the decorations (glue panels) made in 1808 for the celebrations of the Restauração de Portugal (the Restoration), that took place in the Igreja Matriz de Vila Nova de Gaia as described in the Descripção Topographica de Villa Nova de Gaya by João Monteiro Azevedo and two watercolour paintings for the Real Companhia Velha (1810), picturing the destruction of Cachão da Valeira do rio Douro, in S. João da Pesqueira.
When he finished his artistic formal education, at the age of 21, he was appointed professor of the Aula de Desenho da Academia Real da Marinha e Comércio (1811-1813) in replacement of Raimundo Joaquim da Costa that had got the place after José Teixeira Barreto’s death.
Between 1836 and 1837 he was appointed Director of the three Porto’s Academies. After teaching in the Academia Real de Marinha e Comércio (Royal Academy of Maritime and Trade Affairs of the City of Porto) he was a professor in the The Porto Academy of Fine Arts for a short period and he settled down in the Polytechnic Academy of Porto, where he stayed until jubilation, in 1853, though he kept teaching for a couple of years afterwards.
During the Porto’s siege, João Baptista Ribeiro, who was “an absolutist by convivience (a supporter of D. Miguel’s ideals) and a convicted liberal” was often summoned to the royal residence by D. Pedro IV to portrait the king or to give advice about the guidelines for the creation of a new museum whose organization he had been in charge of. He was offered a lithographic press by the king, who was a frequent visit of his house and he was dismissed from military service. He painted the landing of Pampelido and the cannons in Covelo, Monte Pedral and Congregados (places in Porto where battles were fought during the siege).
He also played an important role as a city cultural agent. Under the king’s orientations he organized the creation of academies, museums, associations and coordinated the recollection inventory of the heritage belonging to the abandoned convents and the houses confiscated to the absolutist rebels.
The first Portuguese public museum was planned to shelter that heritage that was kept in the Academy: the Museu de Pinturas e Estampas, later Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis. By decree of D. Maria II, in 1836, he was appointed Director of the museum. He left this post in 1839, when the museum was in Convento de Santo António da Cidade, in S. Lázaro. It was composed of a gallery and a large room and opened to the public in 1840 under the sponsorship of the The Porto Academy of Fine Arts.
After his first works he devoted himself particularly to great dimension portraits and religious decorations (great "panos de camarim") in Valongo, in the Congregados and the retábulos (the decorated panels behind the high altar in a church) of Massarelos, Capela das Almas and S. João das Taipas, no longer existing).
In the Portrait genre there are two distinct types: the ones commissioned and the more freely painted, like his self-portrait (1840) and his father’s, two examples of his mastery. Among others he painted D. João VI, D. Pedro IV, D. Maria II and D. Pedro V’s portraits for the University of Coimbra (Sala dos Capelos) and also a portrait of D. Miguel.
The art of miniature painting provided him with the techniques to the serial production of King D. João VI and Queen Carlota Joaquina’s pictures, as well as the bourgeoisie, militaries and self-portraits. The lithography techniques allowed him to try new works. Later he also tried the daguerreotype, the first way to reproduce the photographic image and using this process he immortalized the XIXth century writer Alexandre Herculano (a 1854 daguerreotype) and some of his closest friends
Although he lived always in Porto, João Baptista Ribeiro never lost contact with his home land. He worked for several regional institutions and he exchanged correspondence with the Morgado de Mateus, one of the first to recognize his talent.
He died in Porto, on July 24, 1868 in his house of Rua Bela da Princesa (now Rua de Santa Catarina). In its back garden he had installed a lithographic workshop. On the outer wall he made a panel of azulejos, as a tribute to his masters Vieira Portuense, Domingos Sequeira and Teixeira Barreto.
This controversial man, that attracted both hatred and admiration feelings (the newspaper "O Cafre" published a "heroic-satirical" poem in which he was depicted as an obsessive, rude and boring fan of the absolutist ideas), belongs to history as a politician, a pedagog, a museum director, a pioneer of photography and lithography in Porto and, of course, as a painter. Probably not the most notable of Portuense painters, but the one that, in the words of Flórido de Vasconcelos, "must be remembered as one of the most prolific and active art promoters in Porto" ("João Baptista Ribeiro. Uma Figura do Porto Liberal", 1991).
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)