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The Egyptian of Torel Garden was, for us, one of the most enigmatic curiosities of Lisbon. Its authorship, its symbolism has always intrigued us…
In fact, in no guided tour, city guide or website that describes this magnificent viewpoint we can find relevant information about this elegant figure that welcomes us as soon as we pass the beautiful fence of this garden.
We went looking and found its author, its origin and a series of twins around the world.
One Fountain Two Locations
The route along one of the most beautiful streets of Lisbon, where we can admire rare examplars of Italian mosaic, leads us to the Egyptian of Torel Garden. This sculpture, which decorates a fountain in this garden, rehabilitated in June 2020, has been enchanting those who have been passing by since the late 1920s. But this was not its first location.
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Its origin points us to Folgosa Palace located in Rua da Palma, no. 169, in Martim Moniz. It was built in 1893 by António de Sousa e Sá, count of Folgosa (1843-1923), and acquired by the Lisbon City Council in 1928. With the transformations and adaptations of the palace then carried out, part of the fence was removed from there and placed in Torel Garden, as well as the vases that flank and top the gate and even the fountain with the beautiful Egyptian.
The fence that was in the old palace in Rua da Palma is still there and you can easily see that it is the same as the one in the garden.
Authorship, Context and a Closer Look
The Egyptian of Torel Garden is a beautiful artwork by French sculptor Mathurin Moreau (1822-1912), the same author of the main figures of the Monumental Fountains of Rossio, which we’ve already touched on.
This woman-shaped cast iron sculpture raises her arms above her head, holding a torch. This female figure wears the Nemes, a striped head cloth that was used exclusively by the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. These iconographic inconsistencies are common in later, non-coeval representations. The presence of the Nemes leaves no doubt about the origin of the figure and it may even have been consciously introduced, giving it importance.
The base of the piece is made up of a column, also made of cast iron. It is decorated with lotus flowers and peacock feathers and a more prominent plate surrounded by male figureheads, also framed by turbans, from which water gushes into a circular stone tank. In the past, this was protected by a decorative railing which surrounded a bed of roses.
This exotic grammar related to Ancient Egypt, very popular in the 19th century, is the result of the attention given by the Europeans to the archaeological vestiges then discovered in Egypt, which culminated in a fondness sometimes exacerbated called Egyptomania.
As we saw in Iron Fountains of the 19th Century Lisbon, it was in this century, with the development of urban centres, that fountains and street furniture in general, such as lamps, railings and benches, among many others, gained a new dynamic. For this, the French foundries were fundamental, as they reproduced the artistic works of sculptors in mass-produced cast iron pieces that, made available by catalogue, were spread all over the world.
It was in this context that our Egyptian of Torel Garden was conceived and produced at the French foundry in Val’Dosne at the end of the 19th century, arriving in Lisbon to enrich Folgosa Palace.
The Egyptian’s Twins of Torel Garden
As it should be, when it comes to pieces made in series, we can see that there are always some twins scattered around the four corners of the world.
We found sets which are exactly the same as our Egyptian of Torel Garden in Lisbon, in the Public Garden of Miliana in Algiers, in Algeria and in the Place Clemenceau in Neuvy-Saint-Sépulchre, a commune in France.
Knowing that the torch is an independent part of the base, it is not surprising that it appears countless times with different applications and on different pedestal models, associated or not with fountains.
These are the cases present at the Montevideo Municipal Zoo in Uruguay; at La Alhambra Palace in Santiago de Chile, Chile; the Pernambuco State Museum in Recife and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; in Pondichery in India; in Saint Étienne and Paris in France…
Often the Egyptian is paired with another model of torchbearer, this time representing an equally beautiful woman of African origin. We find them in Temple Hoyne Buell, a mausoleum in Denver, USA; at the Hôtel de Ville in Lorraine, France; at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin Ireland and, surprisingly, flanking a stage in the Crystal Palace Gardens in the city of Porto in Portugal.
When passing by Torel Garden, pay attention to the elegance of this fountain. An iconography that suggests the purification by water led by an Egyptian who takes us back to the cult of Horus. Lotus flowers are a symbol of rebirth and peacock feathers a symbol of sun and immortality. A path to travel in search of truth, knowledge, science and wisdom that culminates in Light.
Also read Marks of Ancient Egypt in Lisbon, where we talk about other contemporary Egyptian-inspired elements.
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