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The Jewel of the Tagus, a site-specific installation by Joana Vasconcelos in The Torre de Belém
© Joana Vasconcelos
Photo: Luís Vasconcelos (during the set up of the work)
Courtesy of Atelier Joana Vasconcelos
Sábado, 10 de Mayo de 2008   Lisboa, Portugal,
"(�) he started by ordering the monarch [D. Manuel I] to take off the fake emeralds out of respectfor the court and to hand over to the bailiff the pipe painted with the same yellow as the sceptre. Itwas then that I saw, for the first time in many years, the oakum locks from the wig of Your Honourand suddenly I realised the extreme emptiness of ordering the construction of more monumentson docks for world conquering caravels."(2)

António Lobo Antunes, As Naus

The Torre de Belém is certainly one of the monuments that best symbolizes the periodwhen Portugal's influence upon the World was at its peak, marked by important maritimediscoveries and the expansion of the kingdom. For centuries the territories of the Indicand the Atlantic gave Portugal unrivalled riches which immediately translated into anopulent life style, proudly exhibited by the privileged classes.

The Jewel of the Tagus (1), an installation designed specifically for the Torre de Belém, combines monumental architecture with jewellery, paradigmatic manifestations of thecountry's extraordinary wealth derived from the exploration and development ofoverseas territories at different times in the History of Portugal. The Jewel of the Tagusemerges, resting on the tower, on the façade opposite the Tagus river, like an enormousnecklace of yellow, green, red and blue nautical buoys,(3) inspired by the magnificentworks of the national baroque jewellery of the last quarter of the XVII century.(4)

The festive and jolly character of the event � the nomination of the Torre de Belém asone of the 7 Wonders of Portugal � highlighted by the obvious visual impact of theinstallation, resulting from its monumental scale and the contrast created by the use ofcolour and the neutral tone of stone, do not hide an intelligent thought exercise and acritical comment concerning the national ethos. The laborious and inventive operation of substituting the precious stones, mostly of a high monetary value, for ordinary buoys, together with the other associated signs that represent a luxurious past, also alludes tomoments when the nation faces impending sinking and decay, resulting from acontinuous endemic incapacity to take advantage of the conditions favourable to buildingsound foundations, capable of maintaining the country on a path towards realsustainable development.

Lúcio Moura

1 A site-specific intervention by the artist Joana Vasconcelos at Torre de Belém, in Lisbon, during the recent initiative for the popular selection of the "7 Wonders of Portugal".
2 António Lobo Antunes, As Naus, 5.ª ed., Dom Quixote, Lisbon, 2002, p.190 (Translated from the original text in Portuguese).
3 Except for the blue, the remaining chromatic options which allude to precious stones (emerald,ruby and topaz) bring to mind the colours of the current Portuguese national flag.
4 "In the last quarter of the XVII century, jewels whose design was totally dominated by preciousstones started to be highly appreciated. (�) This happened due to the massive flow of preciousstones arriving annually from Brazil." (Nuno Vassallo e Silva, "As Artes Decorativas do BarrocoInicial ao Rococó", História da Arte Portuguesa, dir. Paulo Pereira, vol. III, Círculo de Leitores,Lisbon, 1995, p.174) (Translated from the original text in Portuguese).
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