The spirit of the new moon


Arthur Loureiro’s (1853–1932) painting The spirit of the new moon 1888, on display at the Queensland Art Gallery, was inspired by the sixteenth-century epic poem Os Lusiadas by Luis Vaz de Camoes, considered one of the greatest poets from the artist’s homeland, de Camoes describes the history of Portugal from its origins to the voyage of the explorer Vasco da Gama (c. 1469-1525) to India in the late 1400s.

In the poem, the goddess Venus comes to the aid of Portuguese sailors when they are engaged in battle, and when struggling against the forces of nature, as powered by the malevolent gods. In Loureiro’s painting, Venus is depicted as confounding Adamastor, the spirit of the Cape of Good Hope (south-west South Africa), who eventually granted da Gama’s journey through this notoriously treacherous ocean passage.

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Study for ‘The spirit of the new moon’ 1888

Arthur (Artur) Loureiro, Portugal/Australia 1853–1932 / Study for ‘The spirit of the new moon’ 1888 / Oil on canvas / 56 x 165cm / Purchased 1995.  QAG Foundation Grant with the assistance of Philip Bacon through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation.  Celebrating the Queensland Art Gallery’s Centenary 1895-1995 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Curiously, Loureiro’s fierce Adamastor appears to be fashioned in the image of Vasco da Gama himself (illustrated). Clearly inspired by the explorer’s accomplishments, Loureiro named his only son Vasco, when he was born in 1882.

(left) Unknown; Portrait of a man (assumed to be Vasco da Gama) (detail) 16th century; Collection: MNAA National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon, Portugal / (right) Arthur (Artur) Loureiro; Study for ‘The spirit of the new moon’ (detail) 1888; Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

‘Study for ‘The spirit of the new moon” is on display in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Australian Art Collection, Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Galleries (10-13).