Erotised bodies in the sculptures of Porto – a feminine approach

In July 2022 happened to spend several hours a week in Jardim João Chagas (or Jardim da Cordoaria), as it is popularly known), in Porto. In these places, I felt as if I were observed by a relatively asexual figure (an angel-boy), who I later discovered was Ganimedes [Fig. 1]. Nearby, Flora also landed [Fig. 2] and, across the street, in Largo do Amor de Perdição, Camilo Castelo Branco hugged a young naked woman [Fig. 3].

Installed in the public space, the sculptures integrate the landscape, to the point of becoming so frequent, that they are almost not observed by the usual passerby, as if they were a backdrop of any scenario. As Gonçalves points out, “Even today, sculpture does not have the purpose of adapting a natural encounter between public and art, but has the purpose, even indirectly, of coating the place where it ‘belongs’ with a community feeling, denoting an event, an individual, a story or emotion” (2020, p. 34). For me, these and other sculptures of Porto are no longer an indistinct scenario from the reading of Richard Shusterman and the question “can the sexual experience be aesthetic?” (2006, p. 224).

Figure 1

Rapto de Ganimedes, Fernandes de Sá,

Jardim de João Chagas (Cordoaria), 1898.

Figure 2

Flora, Teixeira Lopes (filho),

Jardim de João Chagas (Cordoaria), 1904.


Using the body (soma) as an aesthetic tool (sensorial), I presented myself in the places of the city asking what extensions of other bodies objectified in the sculptures scattered in the public spaces of Porto. The experience had as much as theoretical (use me the concept of somaesthetic, Shusterman, as a tool) as personal, since I experienced these bodies from my female referent.

In July 2023, wandering through the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, the figures scattered throughout the space resembled, as in the case of O Rapto de Ganimedes and Flora, the masks of themselves, spectres willing to reveal more than the beautiful and balanced truth wrought by their authors. Which, I discovered in post-ambulatory research, are mostly male. Faced with this finding, the bodies (almost all female, otherwise) appeared to me trapped in their nudity, functioning as a questioning mirror of my own eroticism. I, a woman, repository of centuries of cultural, artistic, aesthetic and social projections on what is conventionally female, in the public and private dimensions.

Referring to the concepts of love, beauty and eroticism, Jorge de Sena emphasizes his conceptual abstraction, not forgetting, however, the social, cultural and religious framework that shapes them. “(…) love and beauty are already regulatory abstractions, in which aesthetic judgment differs, and that, consequently, the erotic-sexual, thus separated into a subject that desires and object that is desirable, more individually will be revealed in the relations between those abstractions, into a pre-established behavior structure” (Sena, 2023, p. 14). The study of Art History reveals, in sequence, that the meanings of sex and eroticism, despite their specificities, have crossed almost untouched aesthetic and thought currents. It turns out that the narrative on the subject is almost a privilege of men, which has been provided by the circumstance, among others, that for years, women are forbidden to study in the nude (Oliveira, Turíbio & Santos Junior, 2022). Result: “The images of women who occupied this space are usually representations of a male imaginary about women, expressing fears, dreams and beliefs of men” (Reis & Aires, 2023, p. 5). It is therefore not surprising that, in figurative representations throughout history, women always appear as an object subject to observation, resulting in a projection of a male ideal.

Figure 3

Amores de Camilo, Francisco Simões,

Largo do Amor de Perdição, 2012.

Figura 4

Fonte da Fauna e da Flora, Albert-Ernest

Carrier Beleuse, Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, 1824-1887.

I returned to visit the Fonte da Fauna and Flora [Fig. 4] and A Dor [Fig. 5], in Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, months later. The pale winter light removed their fierce force from the solar bounce of summer, but there they were, undisturbed, in their observed postures. Installed in gardens representative of the romantic period, these statues coexist with moss, camellias or water fountains or the rose garden. They spread in the surrounding context in a pose to a provocative time (because it is disruptive in relation to natural space) and conformed, because it allows itself to be absorbed by it.

Figure 5

A Dor, Teixeira Lopes (filho), Jardins do

Palácio de Cristal, 1898.


Figura 6

Salomé, José Rodrigues, Palácio dos Correios, 2021.

The same I experienced in the gardens of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Porto, where several sculptures (fruit, in most cases, of former students) cross in the middle of the paths or by the lake or on the wall. The unpredictability of the setting is as enchanting as the surprising fact of a forest in the middle of the city. But the rupture function (or astonishment) can also be exercised in more common places, as happens with the statue Salomé [Fig. 6], José Rodrigues, installed near the Post Office Palace, on Avenida dos Aliados. The choice of materials, the design of the curve of the breasts and body of this Salomé raises undeniably an aesthetic experience of enjoyment of beauty. However, Salome, let us not forget, is biblically responsible for the beheading of St. John the Baptist and it is his head that sports with pleasure, it seems to me. Oliveira says: “When conventions that objectify and docile the female body are subverted, it is usually in favor of a narrative that describes women as ‘dangerous'” (2020, 1053). Here is Salome, insidious and beautiful, distinct from the hustle and bustle of Flora, in Jardim da Cordoaria, patiently working for the common good.

Figure 7

O Guardador do Sol, José Rodrigues,

Jardins da Faculdade de Belas-Artes, 1963.


Figure 8

Verão, Mathurin Moreau, Jardins do

Palácio de Cristal, 1865.

Figure 9

Verão, Mathurin Moreau, Jardins do

Palácio de Cristal, 1865.

José Rodrigues sculpted other female figures in the city, as is the case of the Anjo Protetor da Cidade, in the Porto Supply Market. And left in the garden of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Porto the sculpture Guardador do Sol [Fig. 7], strong and powerful. How safe and proud is the Verão[Fig. 8], present in Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, as opposed to its female version [Fig. 9], bare breasts, hanging head, empty smile.

Figure 10

Arabesco, Dorita Castel-Branco, Jardim dos Coruchéus, Bairro de Alvalade, Lisboa, 1962.

Figure 11

Arabesco, Dorita Castel-Branco, Jardim dos Coruchéus, Bairro de Alvalade, Lisboa, 1962.

It is necessary to mark two turning points in this somatic flânerie. In mid-summer 2023, I came across the sculpture Arabesco [Figs. 10 and 11], in the garden of Coruchéus, Bairro de Alvalade, Lisbon. Almost having stumbled upon her, this woman who sprawls blamelessly in the middle of the square, I hurried, first, and returned to the place, then. The woman of the Coruchéus, I discovered in later research, has female authorship. Dorita Castel-Branco installed it in this space in 1962, full dictatorship, imagine yourself. I was stuck to the power of action of this woman-statue, full of movement and the improbability of the woman artist. At this point I considered it significant, which entered the study on erotic bodies, originally thought for Porto.

The second turning point occurred in the winter of 2024, visiting the Parque das Águas do Porto or Jardim Barão Nova Sintra. Between eucalyptus and camellias, on the balcony over the river Douro, a naked erect woman gushes erotically water through the mouth. The sculpture is authored by Julião Sarmento and entitled Alter-Ego [Figs 11 and 12]. In addition to being magnificently beautiful, this woman, also exempt from guilt, is free to be observed, without a supervisory attitude of her own body. Just like the Coruchéus. The fact that it was the work of a male author and that he mirrored (by the title attributed) in this woman is an extraordinary proof of the power of agency of somaesthetics. That is, the capacity of action of a body, above the cultural and social assumptions. “The action of the sum, I believe, provides the experiential basis of our concepts of agency and freedom.” points out Shusterman (2019, p. 16).

Figure 12

Alter-ego, Julião Sarmento, Jardim das Águas

do Porto (Barão Nova Sintra), 2017.

Figure 13

Alter-ego, Julião Sarmento, Jardim das Águas

do Porto (Barão Nova Sintra), 2017.

It remains to mention the statue of Camilo Castelo Branco, installed in Largo Amor de Perdição. I caught it before the controversy that made it even bigger and more visible, amid the agitation of the Urbe. I observed her in the first wanderings, feeling the discomfort of a naked body in contact with a man in chains. Accumulated readings and reflections lead me to observe this sculpture repeatedly. The austerity of the figure of Camillus, expressed in the volumetry and the edges of which it is composed, as opposed to the rounded forms of a woman who is willing to be touched. Moving beyond the discussion of taste or politically correct, it is worth looking at this statue as a symbol of this male/female contrast that, unlike Alter-Ego, is not assumed by dilution of borders, but digs them deeper, in a symbolic way.

Cities, says Shusterman (2019), are equal to bodies, which grow and develop. In them everything fits, everything separates and everything is agglutinated, before our perceptions and evolutionary states.


Teresa Lima

fevereiro, 2024


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