Domingos António do Espírito Santo, second son of António do Espírito Santo (from the Algarve) and Rosa Maria Lima, from Lisbon, was born in Belém on 10 March 1768.
He was baptised in the parish church of Ajuda. His godfather was his uncle Domingos de Sequeira Chaves, shopkeeper by profession, from whom he took his surname in his artistic career.
In Lisbon, he attended the Public Drawing Classes, taught by Joaquim Manuel da Rocha and based in the Convent of Caetanos (now the national Conservatory), where he remained until 1781 as an ordinary student.
In 1784, he won the 1st prize with the sketch "Pirro e Glaucias". Two years later, he completed the course and received a new award for "Ismael expulsando Agar".
At the age of 18, he enrolled in the workshop of Francisco de Setúbal, and in 1788 he left for Rome on a royal grant, which he obtained through the Marquis of Marialva.
In Rome, he visited picture galleries, painted portraits and copied masterpieces. He was protected by the chargé d’affaires of the Portuguese embassy, José Pereira Santiago, and by the ambassadors D. João de Mello e Castro (1756-1814) and D. Alexandre de Sousa Holstein (1751-1803). He also attended the Portuguese Academy of Arts and studied with professors António Cavallucci (1752-1795) and Domenico Corvi (1721-1803).
At the beginning of 1789, he received the 2nd prize in the competition of the Scuola del Nudo em Campidoglio, and soon after the 2nd prize in painting in the Clementino competition, promoted by the Accademia di San Luca.
In the letters he exchanged with João Pinto da Silva, keeper of the queen’s jewels and her spokesman in the Portuguese court, he complained of his pension, which he felt was very low. In response to this outburst, it was suggested to him that he offer some works to the queen. He took the advice and sent the queen a copy of "Santa Maria Madalena", by Guido Reni and offered a "S. Sebastião" to Pinto da Silva.
He produced other paintings for the court, such as "Moeda de César" and "Milagre de Ourique" when he applied for the position of royal painter. He painted "Alegoria à Fundação da Casa Pia" for Pina Manique (1733-1805).
In 1793, he was appointed member of the Roman academy of S. Lucas, for the position of teacher. The presentation of "Degolação de S. João Baptista" gave him an advantage over his opponent Vieira Portuense, who was also in Italy.
In the meantime, he thought about leaving Rome to join Melo e Castro who had been appointed ambassador in London, however, his intentions were frustrated by financier Pinto da Silva. In another letter, he asked support to return to Portugal, and once again complained about the pension he received, which he felt was less than the amount given to students sent to Rome by Pina Manique, and less than the amount Vieira Portuense received. The keeper of the queen’s jewels insisted that he remain in Rome, warning him that in Portugal there was no market for his art, but the artist only received this letter when he was already travelling. On his return trip, he was warmly welcomed in the Italian cities he crossed: Bologna, Parma, Florence, Milan and Venice.
In Lisbon, in 1795, he settled in Belém and continued to paint. He charged high prices for these paintings, and this led him to seek the support of other painters, such as Cirilo Volkmar Machado and Pedro Alexandrino, so that, in a joint effort, they could inflate the value of paintings in Portugal.
At this stage in his life, he visited the Palace of Arroios, owned by D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho (Count of Linhares), for whom he produced works and taught the countess. At the same time, he still worked on commissions received, for example, the stage curtain of S. João Theatre, in Porto, in which he represented "Volta de Vasco da Gama da Índia".
The success he enjoyed did not prevent him from falling into a deep state of melancholy, supposedly due to the small size of the national art market and to an unhappy love affair involving a relative of the wealthy Cometti family with whom he had been involved in Rome. This critical spirit led him to find temporary seclusion in the Carthusian convent of Laveiras, in Caxias. Here, his paintings were dedicated to S. Bruno of Cologne, founder of the Carthusian Order, with marked influences of Domenichino and Guido Reni.
In 1802, after leaving the religious life, he was appointed "Principal Painter of the Court" along with Vieira Portuense, and earned an annual salary of 2 thousand réis and was given an official coach. The two artists were responsible for directing the painting works of Ajuda Palace and had to suggest painters for that work and for the teaching of painting at a school near the palace.
In that year, Domingos Sequeira painted a portrait of the Prince Regent with the Ajuda Palace in the background, and months later he was appointed master of Drawing and Painting of the Princess of Beira, her mother (D. Carlota Joaquina) and her aunts (D. Maria Francisca Benedita and D. Maria Ana).
He also painted an equestrian portrait of the Prince Regent and the ceilings of the palace, hidden by previous works, and several canvases. Among them, several scenes of the life of D. Afonso Henriques, which were taken to Brazil and are now missing.
Domingos Sequeira also worked in the Palace/Convent of Mafra and made sketches for paintings and wall paintings, such as "Duarte Pacheco combatendo o Samorim", for the Discoveries Hall.
After the death of Vieira Portuense in 1805, he became the director of the Drawing and Painting Class at the Royal Academy of Maritime and Trade Affairs of the City of Porto, between 1806 and 1821.
Em 1808, he returned to Lisbon and established relations with the Count of Forbin, a General-Staff military officer and amateur painter, and with other French officers, and even painted the unfinished painting titled "Junot protegendo a cidade de Lisboa", which did not please his commissioner, who had wanted Lisbon represented as a confident city.
In December, he was arrested leaving a dinner at the home of the Marquis of Marialva under the false accusation of having talked indecorously about the Prince Regent at a café. After this episode, he was incarcerated in Limoeiro jail. He was charged with collaborating with the French and especially with turning the canopy room in the Ajuda Palace into a workshop, placing a horse in it to portray Major Constant and of having painted an allegory of Junot.
After his release in September 1809, he kept the position of Court painter, but never returned to work at Ajuda Palace.
In the following years, he made an effort to exalt Portugal and its crown. He painted canvases such as "Alegoria às Virtudes do Príncipe Regente" [Allegories to the virtues of the Prince Regent], a Neo-Classical work for the Prince commissioned by the Baron of Sobral, "Génio da Nação Portuguesa" [Genie of the Portuguese Nation] and "Lisboa, protegendo os seus habitantes" [Lisbon protecting its inhabitants], financed by the Baron of Quintela. He also worked in the artistic design, iconography and direction of the silver tableware offered to Wellington, in gratitude for the expulsion of the French.
In 1809 he married Mariana Benedita Vitória Verde and, from then on, he added family portraits to his many self-portraits. He was portrayed with his wife and her brother, his friend João Baptista Verde, produced an ex-voto representing the difficult birth of his first-born son, and painted his children.
He became a widower when his son Domingos was born, who eventually died prematurely in 1817.
In the book "Retrato do Conde de Farrobo" (Joaquim Pedro de Quintela, future Baron and later Count of Farrobo) and in the portrait of his daughter he revealed the shift to a new Romantic aesthetics.
After the 1820 Revolution, the press reported that Domingos Sequeira was painting "Alegoria à Constituição" [Allegory to the Constitution] and "Portugal à beira do Abismo" [Portugal on the verge of an abyss]. In 1821, the painter wrote to the Congress offering to paint the Great achievements of the period in two paintings (the already mentioned "Alegoria à Constituição" and a painting of the Congress), he submitted projects for monuments to the Constitution, designed the first bank notes for the Bank of Portugal, of which he was a shareholder, costumes of government ministers and diplomats and commemorative medals, and designed the project for the tomb of Fernandes Tomás. He also collaborated in the decoration of the Courts Hall, for which he painted a portrait of the king.
In January 1823, the courts discussed the salaries of the Court painters allocated in the expenses of the Ajuda Palace and the organization of the teaching of Fine Arts. Domingos Sequeira’s name appeared in several speeches that showed both his merit and the lack of dedication to teaching. Following the debate, he was appointed founding partner and president of Athenaeum of Fine Arts, and later History Painting teacher at the School of Fine Arts.
After the Vila Franca de Xira uprising in 1823, the Fine Arts courses created in the previous month were closed, the monument dedicated to the Constitution, to be erected in Rossio, did not materialize, and the finishing works of the paintings for the congress were compromised.
Fearing for his own future, Domingos Sequeira obtained a passport through the help of the future Duke of Palmela, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, who secured his salary as a royal painter (later cancelled in 1831), and in September he embarked with his daughter to Plymouth, along with the exiled liberals, just before the civil war.
Arriving in Paris, he was met by the Marquis of Marialva, reinstated as ambassador and who died one and a half months later. The artist dedicated a lithograph allegoric painting to him, the first of many allegories he painted.
He then sought the protection of an old acquaintance, the Count of Forbin, at the time director of French museums, who welcomed him and introduced him to François Gerard, a painter who illustrated the edition of "Os Lusíadas" in 1871, of the majorat of Mateus. Through him, he contacted with new artistic trends and participated in the 1824 "Salon" with the paintings "Fuga para o Egipto" [Flight to Egypt] and "A morte de Camões" [The death of Camões], the first Portuguese romantic painting, which has disappeared and we only know of it through existing sketches. Still in Paris, he painted portraits of the ambassador of Brazil, the Baron of Pedra Branca, with his wife and daughter, of Adrião Ribeiro das Neves and of D. João VI.
At the age of 60, he settled in Rome to escape the variable French weather and his poor health, while looking for a more familiar artistic environment. He was welcomed by the ambassador of Portugal, the Count of Funchal, brother of D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho. He was appointed dean and advisor of the Academy of S. Lucas. He was commissioned to paint sacred works for religious men and aristocrats, and began four paintings on the life of Christ and themes from the Gospels, which renovated and perfected his work: "Descida da Cruz" [The Descent from the Cross] (1827), "Adoração dos Magos" [The Adoration of the Three Wise Men] (1828), "Ascensão" [Ascension] (1828-1830) and "Juízo Final" [Final Judgement] (1828-1830).
In 1833, he was stricken by seizures. He then gave up painting, living four more years, although deprived of his mental faculties. He was not aware of the distinctions awarded by the 1836-42 September Government, who named him Commander of the Order of Christ and honorary director of the Academy of Fine Arts.
Domingos Sequeira died in Rome at the age of 69 and is buried in the Church of Santo António dos Portugueses.