Art, Zé Povinho - the Portuguese everyman figure

Zé Povinho – the Portuguese everyman figure

Zé Povinho

Zé Povinho is a popular Portuguese figure depicted in cartoons and in pottery as an everyman character, whose name equates to Joe Public. He was created by the artist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro in 1875 and appears as an agricultural labourer making a defiantly rude gesture (known as a manguito) by bending one arm up and putting the hand of the other arm in the crock of the elbow as if to say ‘Up yours!’ Despite many Portuguese disassociating themselves from the servile Zé Povinho character, who doesn’t confront his superiors directly but makes ineffective gestures behind their backs, he is still revered in Portugal because of his humorous disregard for those in authority. The ceramic in the photo is a contemporary piece in which Zé Povinho gives a manguito to Moody’s credit-rating agency, which downgraded Portugal’s credit rating during the recent financial crisis.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December, Festivals

Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December

‘Nossa Senhora da Conceição’, Portuguese School (17th century), Great Hall, Igreja do Carmo, Porto

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Festa da Imaculada Conceição) is a religious holiday to celebrate the conception of the Virgin Mary, who Catholics believe was born without original sin, and in Portugal it is also a public holiday. For Portuguese Catholics the day has special significance, as Nossa Senhora da Imaculada Conceição (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) is the patron saint of Portugal. She was first chosen to be the country’s patron saint by Queen Isabel (who later became Saint Isabel Queen of Portugal) in 1320, who made the Immaculate Conception a day of celebration, but it wasn’t until 1646 that King João IV officially proclaimed Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception the patron saint of Portugal. The main focus of the day for Catholics is to attend a Mass, but in many places there are also processions through the streets, where a statue of Mary is carried. She is also the patron saint of fishermen and in Quarteira, a coastal town in the Algarve, after being paraded through the streets of Quarteira, she is put on a boat and sailed around the Quarteira coast to bless the sea, accompanied by the boats of the local fishermen.

Banks, post offices and other public services are closed on this day (this includes some museums) and public transport runs to a reduced timetable. However, large shopping centres and shops in tourist areas should be open as usual. Churches will be closed to tourists while Mass is taking place.

Festivals, The St Martin’s Day magusto, 11th November

The St Martin’s Day magusto, 11th November

St Martin’s Day (Dia de São Martinho) is an autumn festival which coincides with the ripening of the chestnuts and the production of the new wine. St Martin was a soldier who lived in the fourth century and in a famous legend it is said that when he was returning home one day during a terrible storm he came across a beggar who was suffering in the harsh weather. Martin took off his cape, cut it in half and gave one half to the beggar. At that moment the storm abated and the sun came out. Martin left the army, became a monk and later the Bishop of Tours, and was ultimately canonized. St Martin’s Day is celebrated on 11th November and often on this date the weather is unseasonably warm and sunny; this is known as o verão de São Martinho (St Martin’s summer). The Portuguese celebrate this day by having a magusto. The magusto varies from region to region, but always involves socializing while eating roast chestnuts and drinking água-pé, jeropiga or the new wine of that year. Água-pé (pomace wine) is a low-alcohol wine made from the pomace () of grape skins, seeds and pulp (left after the juice has been extracted), which has water (água) added to it and is then fermented.  Jeropiga is a sweet fortified wine made with grape juice to which a grape spirit (aguardente) is added. In rural areas the villagers gather around a bonfire in which the chestnuts are roasted (the word ‘magusto’ is thought to come from the Latin ‘magnus’ meaning ‘big’ and ‘ustus’ meaning ‘burnt’). Some people rub the ashes from the bonfire on their faces, a custom which may date back to pagan times where it was believed that the ashes would ward off evil spirits. In more urban areas the bonfire is replaced with the ubiquitous roast-chestnut vendors. There are often stalls selling regional produce, sometimes there is a pig roast, accompanied by music and dancing.

As the Portuguese saying goes, ‘Água-pé, jeropiga, castanhas e vinho, faz-se uma boa festa pelo São Martinho.’ (‘Água-pé, jeropiga, chestnuts and wine, make a good party for St Martin.’)