The sculptor Costa Motta (Tio) isn’t one of the most well-known out there. But did you know that many of the emblematic monuments of Lisbon were his work?
His first art pieces were the tombs of the explorer Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) and of the poet Luís de Camões (1524-1580), dated from 1894.
You can find them side by side on the rood screen of the church of Jerónimos Monastery and they both have the same typology and neo-manueline aesthetic. Because they belong to very prominent personalities of the history of Portugal and due to their location, these tombs are famous tourist attractions and consequently among the most well-known pieces of the sculptor.
But although they’re eye catching, they’re only his first pieces and undoubtedly not his best…
Who Was the Sculptor Costa Motta (Tio)
António Augusto da Costa Motta (1862-1930) was a notable Portuguese sculptor, a representative of the naturalist trend of the transition between the 19th and 20th centuries.
He’s always referred to as tio (uncle) in order not to be mistaken for his nephew (1877-1956), his namesake and a sculptor too.
He started his art studies in Coimbra, his hometown, but in 1883 he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts of Lisbon where he studied sculpture.
There he was a student of important personalities of the Portuguese sculpture world, such as António Tomás da Fonseca, Silva Porto, Simões de Almeida (tio), Alberto Nunes and Vítor Bastos. The latter, among other pieces, was the author of the statues on the top level of the Triumphal Arch of Praça do Comércio.
Despite the clear expressive qualities in his work, from which we highlight O Cavador (1913) and Poeta Chiado (1925), he was almost entirely dedicated to classic monumental statuary and to the production of busts.
This period was particularly fruitful when it comes to contests and direct orders for the construction of memorials. Thus, it allowed him to be one of the few sculptors who were able to live exclusively off of this occupation.
The Public Work of the Sculptor Costa Motta (Tio) in Lisbon
Let’s now get to know his work that with a high expressiveness and realism contribute to the enrichment of the artistic patrimony of the city.
Monument of Afonso de Albuquerque (1901)
This monument, located in front of the Belém Palace, pays homage to the distinguished warrior, strategist and 2nd governor of India, Afonso de Albuquerque (1452-1515).
This was the piece with which the sculptor Costa Motta (tio) won his first contest in partnership with the architect Silva Pinto, and also the piece that started off his professional career.
The initiative of building this monument, as well as the realisation of the two tombs of Jerónimos Monastery, originated from the writer, historian and politician Luz Soriano (1802-1891) that left in his will this wish, as well as the financial resources for its concretisation.
However, the sculptor felt that his creativity was restricted due to the low allocation of funds destined for the piece honouring such an inspiring personality.
Therefore, it was necessary that the government provided the bronze for the statue that tops the neo-manueline-style long column.
The statue was cast in the Army Arsenal and its mold can be seen in the House of Plasters, which belongs to the Lisbon Army Museum.
The octogonal pedestal features four reliefs and four Virtues. These grand winged figures symbolise the qualities attributed to Afonso de Albuquerque: Genius, Strength, Valour and Justice.
Monument of Eduardo Coelho (1904)
Located in São Pedro de Alcântara Garden we can find the monument of Eduardo Coelho (1835-1889), journalist and founder of the newspaper Diário de Notícias in 1964.
This piece features two bronze sculptures from Costa Motta (tio) and its complex base, with an eclectic style that was in vogue at the time, was produced by the architect Álvaro Machado.
In addition to the bust of the journalist we can see a figure of an energetic boy in movement. This is a tribute to ardinas (paperboys), teenagers or even children that crossed the city proclaiming and selling this newspaper.
This profession was novelty at the time, introduced by the revolutionary media that focused on a mix of information and advertisement, which allowed an accessible price for everyone; on having news free of opinion and controversy; and on simplicity and clarity, which enabled proximity with readers of all social strata, genders or convictions.
Originally the statue of the boy was placed higher and his head reached the level of where today the bronze medal is. This medal was added in 1914 for the commemoration of the 50 years of existence of the newspaper and features the effigy of Tomás Quintino Antunes, count of São Marçal, co-founder and second director of the morning newspaper that marked the life in Lisbon in many ways.
2nd Monument of Sousa Martins (1907) and Monument to Pinheiro Chagas (1908)
These are two interesting monuments that we’ve already shared with you in previous articles.
The first is the 2nd monument located in Santana Hill of Dr. Sousa Martins, the Laic Saint, which is still today a place of cult and devotion.
The second pays homage to the writer, journalist and playwright Manuel Pinheiro Chagas (1842-1895). You can read more about it in The Sculptures of Liberdade Avenue – East.
Statue O Cavador (1913)
O Cavador (the excavator), located in Estrela Garden since 1913, is a piece different to the previous ones that presents some novelties, which among them are its realistic character and installation.
We can say that this is an instant photograph. The torsion of the body, the illusion of movement and expressiveness associated to the plain clothes, make this a good example of the artistic skills and intention of the sculptor.
On the other hand this is the first piece where the sculptor Costa Motta (tio) doesn’t include a pedestal, an intention that wasn’t entirely embraced in the representation of the paperboy that we’ve previously seen.
Unfortunately, later on its support base that used to be underground was dug up. Now it serves as a pedestal, which clearly dismisses the original idea of the sculptor.
Sculptural Set O Lavrador or Sagrada Família (1918)
This small sculptural set situated in a discreet garden makes it unknown to many and thus, maybe one of the most curious pieces of him.
On a discreet pedestal in 5 de Outubro Garden, also known as Burra Garden (Donkey Garden), next to Estrela Basilica, we find a peasant couple in bronze.
A man on foot, carrying a hoe on his shoulder and a woman riding a donkey and carrying a baby constitute a realistic portrait of the simple countryside people. This piece is a tribute to the people and, simultaneously, an allusion to the Sacred Family.
Statue Maria da Fonte (1920)
The figure of Maria da Fonte symbolises the popular movement and the freedom that resulted from the establishment of the liberal regime in Portugal in 1820. It was precisely for the commemoration of its centenary that it was inaugurated in Teófilo Braga Garden in Campo de Ourique.
This statue in white marble has so much expression and movement. It represents a young woman, bigger than life-size, wearing a garment from Minho and barefoot. She carries on her left shoulder a handmade weapon: a shaft with an iron spear. On her right hand she holds a pistol with which she foments fighting, leading the way to her followers.
Statue of Poeta Chiado (1925)
This monument promoted by the City Council of Lisbon in honour of the poet António Ribeiro (1520?-1591) was inaugurated in 1925, despite being contested by the intellectuals of the time. This is because they considered that other writers would be more deserving of being represented in one of the main squares of the city.
The writer was born in Évora where he was a Franciscan but abandoned the religious life and moved to Lisbon. Known as poet Chiado for having lived in Rua Chiado, nowadays Rua Garrett, he was dedicated to humorous and satire poetry. He was known as talented, but also as troublemaker, bohemian and provocative.
His statue in bronze lays on a stone plinth from José Alexandre Soares. The poet is wearing a Franciscan vest, which is believed he never stopped wearing. He’s sitting on a wooden bench and is inclined forward, elevating his right arm as if he was challenging whoever passes by him for a talk.
In all of the work of the sculptor Costa Motta (tio) it seems to us that his qualities and the reason for his success are quite patent. His ability of producing classic institutional work that matches the public order coexists simultaneously with the realism and timeless expressiveness that even today doesn’t go unnoticed.
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