Nicolau Nasoni: The Master Architect of Porto

April 18, 2024

Niccolò Nasoni, better known in Portugal as Nicolau Nasoni, was born in San Giovanni Valdarno, in the Italian Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in what is known today as the region of Florence, on June 2, 1691. As the son of Giuseppe Francesco Nasoni and Margaretta Rossi, he began his artistic and professional apprenticeship in painting and decorative arts, as well as in what he was most known for: architecture. From an early age, he allowed himself to be surrounded and influenced by authorities who were experts in their art, such as the painter Giuseppe Nicola Nasini, and the architects Franchim and Vicenzo Ferrati. His education, widely recognized and entirely dedicated to the service of the community, began at the Academy of Arts, or the Accademia dei Rozzi in Italian. It was here that in 1715 Nicolau Nasoni began to gain some notoriety and visibility when he was chosen to prepare and execute the artistic work for the appointment of the new archbishop to Siena. Some years later, he was appointed to the celebration of the new grand master of the Order of Malta, where he worked and distinguished himself by achieving an outstanding result, both for the richness of the decorations and for the construction technique, in the famous “Chariot of Mars” that paraded in the procession of the celebrations.

It was from Siena that Nicolau Nasoni went to Rome, and then to Malta. Here he was responsible for painting a ceiling in the palace of Valletta in 1724, a work commissioned by the Portuguese D. António Manuel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Order of Malta. In all likelihood, it was here that he came into contact with Roque Távora e Noronha, brother of the then Dean of the Cathedral of Porto, whom he eventually invited to visit and settle in the city of Porto. Upon arriving in Portugal, he found a city that was eager for both a cultural and artistic revolution. In 1725, he began painting the Porto Cathedral (or Sé do Porto in Portuguese), one of the first buildings in the city to suffer a number of Baroque-style transformations. From here, his work continues, not only in terms of painting, but also in goldsmithing and, mainly in the field of architecture. It was the creation of several buildings throughout the city that Nicolau Nasoni became widely recognized.

Among the several projects that he worked on, he built throughout the city well-known Palácio do Freixo, Porto Paço Episcopal, Quinta da Prelada, Casa de Ramalde, and in particular the majestic Torre dos Clérigos. Stylistically, this building reveals a mastery of the sources of the 17th-century Roman classicism, which Nasoni adapted to the aesthetics and materials available, while still following Roman models such as the oval structure of the nave and the baroque façade, which were completely unusual in the panorama of construction in Porto at that time. One special aspect is how the façade is relatively narrow, which helps to accentuate its height and monumentality.

There is no denying the famous bond and association between Nasoni and Porto, which accepted his bold and breathtaking visions for the time with open arms. If this city is what it is today, it is largely thanks to Nicolau Nasoni.

Portrait of Nicolau Nasoni

Nicolau Nasoni’s visionary contributions to Porto’s architecture endure to this day