Version classiqueVersion mobile

Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

b) Festivals, evocations, and reenactments

1) An “Album of Pictures”: medieval tournaments and historical pageants in the Estado Novo (1935-1947)

Pedro Martins

Texte intégral

1Historical re-enactments were a central part of the historical imaginary of totalitarian regimes during the 1930s and 1940s. Drawing upon a Romantic medievalist culture—which inspired events such as the medieval pageant of Munich in 1835 and the Eglinton Tournament in 1839, as well as the revival of traditional urban feasts and games in nineteenth-century Italy—these regimes elevated historical re-enactments to unprecedent levels of detail and grandiosity. From the reinvention of the Palio di Siena and Firenze’s Calcio storico in Fascist Italy (Carpegna Falconieri 2011, p. 116) to Munich’s historical pageants held during the “Day of German Art” in Nazi Germany (Schweizer 2007), there are many examples of how the past of each nation was represented and ideologically instrumentalized in this type of display. The Portuguese Estado Novo (1933-1974) was no exception to this phenomenon; during the 1930s and 1940s, we have some examples of elaborated re-enactments in which the history of Portugal was conveyed in a sensorial way.

2The study of these events is important in two ways: first, because they were instruments of political propaganda, forging a sense of cohesion based on a common view of the Portuguese national past; second, because they reveal strong continuities with nineteenth-century Romantic historical culture and with previous historiographical depictions of medieval Portugal. However, these re-enactments have been poorly researched by Portuguese scholars, being only briefly mentioned in some studies on historical commemorations in this period (João 2002).

3This paper examines how the medieval past was depicted in historical re-enactments organized on four occasions during the early years of the Estado Novo: the Cortejo Colonial (Colonial Pageant) at the First Portuguese Colonial Exhibition held in Porto in 1934; the medieval pageant Ala dos Namorados and the tournaments at the feasts of Lisbon and Coimbra in 1935; the Cortejo Histórico do Mundo Português (Historical Pageant of the Portuguese World), held during the so-called “Double Centenary of the Foundation and Restoration of Portuga” in 1940; and the Cortejo Histórico de Lisboa (Lisbon Historical Pageant), organized in the context of the “Eighth Centenary of the Conquest of Lisbon” 1947. All these events were performed in a period of political consolidation for the Estado Novo, after the initial opposition of several sectors of Portuguese society, and partly benefitted from the country’s neutral stance during the Second World War, which, in a way, contributed to strengthening the regime. They were part of a cultural offensive called the Política do Espírito (Politics of the Spirit), promoted by the Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional / SPN (Secretariat of National Propaganda)—from 1944 called Secretariado Nacional de Informação/ SNI (Secretariat of National Information)—with the aim of translating the regime’s work of “national resurgence” into the cultural field. To achieve this aim, the SPN/SNI gave its patronage to various artists—writers, musicians, painters, costume designers—who would then collaborate on many of these historical reenactments.

4Kings, queens, princes, warriors, explorers, clergymen, nobles, maidens, troubadours, merchants, Jews, and Moors constituted the bulk of the depicted medieval figures. Drawing on the audience’s strong acquaintance with these characters—thanks to nineteenth-century Romantic literature, national historiography, school programs, or previous historical commemorations—the organizers sought to convey a supposed sense of “historical authenticity” and of transcending time, two necessary elements for national identification and cohesion. The representation of “great men”—consecrated by nineteenth-century historical culture—and Romantic stock-characters, stereotypes, and deliberate anachronisms all played a significant part in this process. Press articles attest this identification between the public and the depicted characters, as if the audience were watching old loved ones coming to life again.

5A deeper inquiry into the production and reception of these historical re-enactments, as well as a comparative perspective on contemporary examples organized in both democratic and authoritarian regimes, would provide significant clues for understanding the ideological and cultural framework in which they were conceived. These events could thus be better understood as manifestations of the “political sensuality” (Schweizer 2007, p. 28) that characterized totalitarian regimes in the inter-war period.


6Carpegna Falconieri 2011
João 2002
Schweizer 2007


Universidade Nova de Lisboa

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search