Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Holanda, Francisco de

Born: 6 September 1517/18, Lisbon
Died: 19 June 1584, Lisbon
  • Jeremy RoeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_699-1


Francisco de Holanda played a seminal role in the transmission of the humanist discourse on art and architecture to Portugal through both word and image. A key testimony to his entwined artistic practice, literary writing, and intellectual thought is provided by his five extant manuscripts. They underscore how Holanda mastered a range of visual and literary genres of intellectual discourse.



Francisco de Holanda was trained as an illuminator by his father, António de Holanda. His artistic study was complemented by the humanist education he received as a page at the court of John III in Évora from scholars including André de Resende, who had studied in Paris, Louvain, and Brussels. Resende’s erudition was complemented by Miguel da Silva’s extensive knowledge of Italian humanist culture. Da Silva’s knowledge of Rome’s cultural legacy and scholarly community provided an invaluable stimulus for Holanda’s journey to Rome, which provided the culmination of his education.

Holanda left for Rome in early 1538. Da Silva would have provided the youthful Holanda with introductions to key cultural figures, whereby he met Michelangelo and Vittoria Colona. While visiting Venice, he also met Serlio who presented him with his Regole Generali darchitettura. Before leaving for Rome, Holanda was commissioned to document the fortifications he saw and this prompted the creation of the collection of 112 watercolor drawings known the Antigualhas. Holanda completed his original commission, but augmented it with depictions of classical architecture, painting, and sculpture as well as allegories of his own invention. In addition to his evident artistic skill, these drawings testify to his understanding of the intellectual significance of both classical and renaissance art and architecture, a theme he addressed in a second manuscript, Da Pintura Antiga, written on his return to Portugal in 1540.

Da Silva was living in exile in Rome by then and his name goes unmentioned in Pintura, which was dedicated to John III. Nonetheless, Holanda’s ideas and literary choices indicate his mentor’s influence. Charles Hope has discussed the philosophical dimensions of his treatise, and although the discussion is not that of a “professional philosopher” it highlights both Holanda’s intellectual interests and the input of other scholars (Hope, On Antique Painting 2013, 57). The second book of his treatise consists of four dialogues emulating Castiglione’s Il Cortigiano, which Deswarte-Rosa has referred to as his “bedside reading” (Deswarte-Rosa 1998, 179). Although Holanda’s dialogues are a fictional conceit for his reflection on diverse aesthetic issues, they testify to his participation in Rome’s literary milieu. He also addressed aspects of artistic practice, and subsequently wrote De tirar polo natural (1549), a treatise on portraiture.

As his career progressed, Holanda undertook artistic commissions and civic and military architectural projects. Da fábrica que falece à cidade de Lisboa, one of his two final treatises, was intended to promote the continuation of an architectural program for Lisbon he had initiated in the 1540s. Fábrica was accompanied by Da ciência do desenho, which offers an insight into the diverse tasks he undertook as a courtier and artist. It also signals how his life and ideas were increasingly influenced by the political situation in Portugal following the death of John III in 1557. Ciência and Fábrica, completed in 1571, sought to remind the young King Sebastian (1554–1578) of the importance of the visual arts. Yet, by that time, the Inquisition was paying closer scrutiny to humanist writing and the seemingly Neoplatonist aspects of Ciência were censored. Regrettably, two illuminated poetic works from the regency of the Cardinal Infante Henrique (1512–1580, regent 1562–1568) have been lost, but, a visual representation of his philosophical ideas, as well as his rich literary, theological, and classical knowledge is offered in another celebrated book of drawings, De aetatibus mundi imagines.

Aetatibus was completed in two stages: the first completed in 1551, and then in 1573 he added around one hundred further drawings. The book’s Christian theme, signaling the onset of the counter-reformation, reveals a religious dimension of Holanda’s humanism. His geometric renderings of the divine realm have been identified as evoking the divine realm of ideal Platonic forms; the use of allegory in a striking series of six drawings emulates representations of Petrarch’s Trionfi, such as the woodcuts in the 1522 Il Petrarcha, dedicated to da Silva; and, his antiquarian rigor underpins his representations of biblical history. Aetatibus’s 154 drawings underscore how Holanda’s intellectual concerns imbued his artworks, while also highlighting his savoir faire as a renaissance courtier in the face of both his patrons shifting intellectual and spiritual concerns, and the prospect of political change: once Philip II became king of Portugal in 1581, he presented him with Aetatibus, and in return he received a pension for the final years of his life, whereby he ended his life as both a respected courtier and artist.

Impact and Legacy

The impact of Holanda’s writings and artistic and architectural oeuvre is hard to gauge. With regard to Portugal Natural’s fictional dialogue between Holanda and Bras Pereira Brandão signals the circulation of his ideas among his Portuguese peers. The significance of his architectural projects and ideas may be associated with the growing interest in Renaissance ideas signaled by John III’s requests that Resende translate Alberti’s De re aedificatoria and Pedro Nunes Vitruvius’s De architectura. Holanda’s renown spread to Spain; A Spanish translation of Pintura was made by Manuel Denis, 1563, and Antigualhas as well as Aetatibus entered the collection of Philip II. Denis’s translation seems not to have been widely circulated, although it has been argued that Federico Zuccaro may have read it while working in Spain (Deswarte 1992, 224–235). An extant letter of Holanda’s addressed to Michelangelo indicates that he maintained contact with the Rome’s cultural milieu, and the fact that Michelangelo answered his request for a drawing by sending a drawing of a male nude, today conserved in the Hessiches Landesmuseum (Inv. A.E. 1280), signals the bond between the two artists (Deswarte 1992, 138–139). Holanda’s original manuscript of Pintura is untraced, but a copy made in Portugal in 1790 signals its value was not ignored. Scholarly study of Holanda was pioneered by Joaquim de Vasoncelos at the end of the nineteenth-century.



Primary Literature

  1. Only the most recent. editions and translations of Holanda’s writings are listed here in chronological order of production. These may be consulted for information about their manuscript sources.Google Scholar
  2. Álbum dos desenhos das antigualhas. 1988. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  3. De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines = Livro Das Idades. 1983. Lisboa: Comissariado para a XVII Exposição Europeia de Arte, Ciência e Cultura.Google Scholar
  4. Digital edition in Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. http://bdh.bne.es/bnesearch/detalle/bdh0000137315
  5. Da pintura antiga. 1984. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  6. Diálogos em Roma, Obra Completa de Francisco de Holanda, 2. 1984. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  7. Do tirar polo natural. 1984. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  8. De La Pintura Antigua. 2003. Trans: Manuel Denis. Madrid: Visor Libros.Google Scholar
  9. On Antique Painting. 2013. Trans: Alice Sedgwick Wohl. Penn State University Press.Google Scholar
  10. On Portraiture. 2019. Trans: John Bury. London: Paul Holberton Publishing.Google Scholar
  11. Da Fábrica Que Falece à Cidade de Lisboa. 1984. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  12. Da Ciência Do Desenho. 1985. Lisbon: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
  13. Secondary Literature

    1. In addition to the introductory. essays to the critical editions and translations of Holanda’s writings see:Google Scholar
    2. Alves, José da Felicidade. 1986. Introdução ao estudo da obra de Francisco d’Holanda, Francisco d’Holanda. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
    3. Alves, José da Felicidade. 1989. Album Dos Desenhos Das Antigualhas de Francisco de Holanda. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte.Google Scholar
    4. Bury, John Bernard. 1981. Two notes on Francisco de Holanda. London: Warburg Institute, University of London.Google Scholar
    5. Bury, John Bernard. 1979. Francisco de Holanda: A little known source for the history of fortification in the sixteenth century. Paris: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.Google Scholar
    6. Bury, John Bernard. 1985. Francisco de Holanda and his illustrations of the creation. London: MHRA.Google Scholar
    7. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1987. As Imagens Das Idades Do Mundo de Francisco de Holanda. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda.Google Scholar
    8. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1988. La Rome de D. Miguel da Silva (1515–1525). Lisboa: Academia das Ciências.Google Scholar
    9. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1989. Il “Perfetto cortegiano” D. Miguel da Silva. Roma: Bulzoni. https://copac.jisc.ac.uk/id/1794613?style=html&title=%22Perfetto%20cortegiano%22D.%20Miguel%20da%20Silva.
    10. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 1992. Ideias e imagens em Portugal na época dos descobrimentos: Francisco de Holanda e a teoria da arte, Memória e sociedade. Lisboa: Difel.Google Scholar
    11. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 2004. Francisco de Holanda entre théorie et collection: ‘Tudo o que se faz em este mundo é desenhar’. Valladolid: Universidad.Google Scholar
    12. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 2016. Malitia temporis. Francisco de Holanda face à la censure. Textes et images. In Pensar História da Arte. Estudos de Homenagem a José-Augusto França, ed. Pedro Flor, 113–126. Lisboa: Esfera do Caos Editores.Google Scholar
    13. Deswarte-Rosa, Sylvie. 2018. Do Tirar polo natural (1549) de Francisco de Holanda. In Tirar polo natural. Inquérito ao retrato português/inquiry to the Portuguese Portrait, ed. Anísio Franco, 18–35. Lisboa: Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.Google Scholar
    14. Sousa, Ronald W. 1978. The view of the artist in Francisco de Holanda’s dialogues: A clash of Feudal Models. Luso-Brazilian Review 15: 43–58.Google Scholar
    15. van Wamel, M.G. 2011. An Iberian dialogue: Francisco de Holanda versus Felipe de Guevara. Fragmenta. Journal of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 5: 23–38.Google Scholar
    16. Francisco de Holanda. Grove art online. Oxford University Press. Date of access 23 Oct 2018. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T038583/oao-9781884446054-e-9002292301
    17. Cardinal Miguel da Silva. Grove art online. Oxford University Press. Date of access 23 Oct 2018. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T078739/oao-9781884446054-e-9002296513

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CHAM, FCSHUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisboaPortugal

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alejandro Coroleu
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts. Building B, Campus UAB, Department: Catalan LanguageUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola), BarcelonaSpain