In Medieval times, India was renowned for its fabled wealth, its spices, and textiles. For many centuries, European nations looked for a sea link which could connect them directly to India. This sea link was finally discovered by Vasco da Gama from Portugal. He sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498 and reached Calicut on the coast of Kerala. This began a long period of sea-ferrying trade between Europe and Asia. Gradually, many of the lands of Asia were colonized by the European powers of Portugal, Spain, France and England. The confluence of different cultures and religion helped shape the course of Indian artwork. One such point of confluence of European and Indian culture and tradition that witnessed the arrival of a new art form is Goa.
While the Kingdom of Vijay Nagar flourished in the mainland of Deccan, the small and sunny land on the western coast of India began to witness a very different cultural encounter. Goa is a land where many cultures met. This prosperous state has been cherished and ruled by different Kings over the centuries. The beautiful Indian artwork indigenous to this coastal land was cherished by rulers. Goa which was a part of the Vijay Nagar Empire for almost a hundred years till 1470 was conquered by the Portuguese in 1510. For the next four hundred and fifty years, the Portuguese power ruled Goa. And, here was created a unique blend of Indian-Portuguese culture.
In Goa, the deepest encounter between the Western Civilization and Indian Civilization took place in modern times. On the banks of the Mandovi River, the Portuguese built the magnificent capital city of Old Goa. Old Goa became one of the most important ports in India. It also became the nerve center of Portuguese Empire in Asia. Portuguese commercial interest and religious orders covering the area from the east coast of Africa to China and Japan were centered in Old Goa.
The relationship between Portugal and Goa was not restricted to commerce alone. The Portuguese made this picturesque coastal land their home. They brought with them a new religion and culture. They believed that it was their duty to convert the local people to Christianity and to show them what they believed was the true part. The Portuguese were filled with a fiery zeal to establish their faith all over the world. They created huge houses of God in this land. The idea was to inspire and convert the locals through awe and grandeur and through power and majesty. Within a few square kilometers, many magnificent churches were built in Old Goa. Amidst its waving palms, Old Goa had the largest number of churches of any city in Asia.
The religious ideas came here from Europe, but the churches of Goa were made by Indian hands and quite often, transformed by Indian heart. The craftsmen who made these churches had their own images in their mind, for instance, in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, the Saints are made standing on lotuses like the way Hindu deities are made. Indian craftsmen made beautiful altar pieces which represent the confluence of Indian motifs and those of Europe. The message of the Lord was brought to the newly converted people through paintings which were painted on the walls of churches.
In Goa, European techniques of paintings were introduced by Portuguese a long time before the British set up their first art school in India. Within the magnificent churches of Goa, artists created an immense repository of precious religious artworks. Portuguese, who now wanted to settle in India, commissioned paintings from European countries like Lisbon and Rome. These paintings were used to teach Indian artists new subjects and a new manner of paintings.
When it came to painting, Portuguese brought with them the art of the fresco, which was very much in vogue in the Renaissance churches in Europe. They also brought painted canvases, which were originally created by artists associated with famous Italian Schools of Art of those days. They introduced all these aspects of culture – from music to paintings, craftsmanship, and construction and reshaped the traditional Indian artworks. The paintings of Goa bring to us the reflection of paintings in Europe, thus making Goa a true point of confluence of different culture and tradition.