Perhaps some of you may think that this is a place just for scholars or old-fashioned professors’ stuff. But the Equestrian Art Library “Dom Diogo de Bragança, VIIII Marques de Marialva”, which was inaugurated one month ago in the National Palace of Queluz, near Lisbon, is quite a different matter.
First of all, it is a charming place for anyone who loves horses and equestrian culture. Set up at the first floor of the “Portuguese Versailles”, the library is housed in three wonderfully bright, large halls, overlooking the palace gardens. It is here that the beautiful collection of books dedicated to horseback riding, which belonged to Dom Diogo de Bragança (1930-2012), one of the most significant figures of the modern Portuguese equestrian milieu, was recently relocated to and opened to the public. There are more than 1,400 works, some of which are quite rare and precious. But above all, the visitor will be thrilled by the many original engravings of equestrian subjects which are on display. There is no need to be an expert to be stunned by their beauty. The eyes of horse lovers will easily recognize the originals of many very famous pictures published in books of equestrian topics worldwide. Like the beautiful eighteenth-century engravings by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), or the famous portrait of the General Hotte, riding Laruns. And then etchings by Goya and Velasquez, and even the beautiful plate representing the use of long reins from Federico Mazzucchelli’s Scuola equestre (Equestrian School, 1805). In short, a real feast for the eyes and for the mind.
Descending from one of the families of highest and more ancient lineage of Portugal, Diogo de Bragança was a man with a refined culture, a passionate horse lover and a great rider. He was a friend of Nuno Oliveira, who considered him one of his best students. He did not just collect books, but he was himself the author of several works dedicated to horseback riding, among which stands out L’équitation de tradition française (1976, now available also in English under the title Dressage in the French Tradition, Xenophon Press, 2012), in which he analyzed the close relationship between the Portuguese and the French equestrian tradition. Throughout his life he picked up, with curiosity and expertise, books and manuscripts about horsemanship, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present day. After his death, this heritage was in danger of being divided and sold. With great foresight, the company Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua, SA, which manages the monuments of Sintra and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, decided to buy the collection from the heirs. A choice felt by the company’s chairman, António Ressano Garcia Lamas, almost like a “national duty”, which required a significant investment (€ 468,750 in total), which was made possible also by the support of the Calouse Gulbekian Foundation and of the Banco Português de Investimento.
Some perfectly preserved antique editions stand out in the catalog. Such as the volume Equile Ioannis austriaci (Antwerp, 1578), containing the portraits of the horses of different breeds present in the stables of the governor of Flanders Don Juan of Austria (1547-78), son of Emperor Charles V. They were made by the painter Jan Van der Straet, in the second half of the sixteenth century. The work is very interesting, because it shows the different types of horses used during the Renaissance.
Some large-format books from the collection are appropriately exhibited in special showcases, located in the halls of the library. In particular, the beauty of the illustrations and of the bindings of two of them, leave the visitor breathless. One is the famous volume that reproduces, with magnificent engravings, the costumes, the horses trappings and the choreography of the great carousel held in Paris, in 1662, under the reign of Louis XIV, to celebrate the birth of the Grand Dauphin (Courses de testes et de bague faittes par le roy et par les princes seigneurs et de sa cour en l’année 1662, Paris, 1670). The other is the monumental edition of Philippe Etienne Lafosse’s Cours d’hippiatrique (Paris, 1772), illustrated with sixty-seven engravings, most of which are hand-colored. It is a true editorial masterpiece. And then, the most famous Portuguese equestrian treatise could not be missed. We are talking about Luz da liberal and nobre arte da Cavallaria, by Carlos Manuel de Andrade (Lisbon, 1790), decorated with wonderful plates. This is the text that inspires the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, which has its headquarters in the gardens of the Palace of Queluz. In this treatise, the fourth Marquis of Marialva, who was regarded as the greatest rider of his time, is often mentioned as an example. So much so that, in Portugal, the high school dressage is still called “the art of Marialva”. He was an ancestor of Dom Diogo de Bragança who was the eighth Marquis of Marialva.
Being a lover of books, I’m tempted to keep on listing the many beautiful volumes kept in this library, but I don’t want to annoy my readers. Anyone who is interested will soon be able to consult the catalog of the Library on line (we will provide you notice when it becomes available) and then discover a treasure trove of bibliographic information and a significant opportunity for research. It is time that not only riding enthusiasts, but also professional historians, can begin to study the equestrian culture in a systematic and scientifically reliable way. By doing this, they will soon discover that the history of horsemanship is a fundamental chapter of the history of our civilization which cannot be limited to the field of material culture, but that has deeply influenced the imagery and the ideological orientation of the European, Muslim and Asian cultures. A specialized library with such a rich collection of books is an opportunity not to be missed by researchers all around the world.
The Library stands alongside the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, the riding Academy that for over thirty years has picked up the baton of the Portuguese equestrian tradition, becoming its most recognizable and influential representative in the world. A vital synergy is thus established between these two institutions, destined to arouse the admiration of all those who love the noble art of horseback riding.
In short, there is now one more reason to visit the splendid Palace of Queluz and then discover that a library is not at all the dusty mausoleum of a mummified erudition, but it is a living and adventurous place.
The Equestrian Art Library of Diogo de Bragança, 8th Marquis of Marialva National Palace of Queluz
Opening times: Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 1pm and 2pm – 5.30pm
Researchers and academics: free (subject to prior reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org)
General public: National Palace of Queluz entrance ticket