Queluz’s architecture is representative of the final extravagant period of Portuguese culture that followed the discovery of Brazilian gold in 1690. From the beginning of the 18th century many foreign artists and architects were employed in Portugal to satisfy the needs of the newly enriched aristocracy; they brought with them classical ideas of architecture which derived from the Renaissance. In its design, Queluz is a revolt against the earlier, heavier, Italian-influenced Baroque which preceded the Rococo style throughout Europe.
The architecture of Queluz reflects the lifestyle led by the Portuguese royal family at the time of building: during the reign of Dom Pedro’s brother, Joseph I, when Portugal was in practice governed by a valido or favourite, the Marquis of Pombal. Pombal encouraged the royal family to while away their days in the country and leave affairs of state to him. Thus the extravagant, almost whimsical architecture of Queluz, set apart from the capital city, exactly represents the politics and social events of Portugal during this era, and the carefree and flamboyant lives led by its occupants. Queluz’s role as a haven for those without responsibility was, however, to be short-lived.
The site chosen for this summer retreat was in a secluded hollow. It had originally been owned by the Marquis of Castelo Rodrigo. When the ruling Spanish were driven from Portugal in 1640, the Marquis was accused of having collaborated with the Spanish and the property was seized by the Portuguese Crown. The estate and its hunting lodge then became one of the many properties of the Portuguese king, João IV. He set it aside as one of the properties reserved for the second son of the reigning monarch. Thus it came into the hands of Dom Pedro, the second son of João V.
The Great earthquake of 1755
The architect, Mateus Vicente de Oliveira, had trained under Ludovice of Ratisbon and Jean Baptiste Robillon during the construction of the royal palace and convent of Mafra. The more sombre and massive classical palace at Mafra does not appear to have influenced the design for Queluz, which is in a lighter, more airy style. Work began in 1747 and continued rapidly until 1755, when it was interrupted by the Great earthquake of 1755, after which the labourers were more urgently required for the reconstruction of the city. The earthquake proved to be a catalyst, because the urban rebuilding process stimulated the development of the arts in Portugal.
The subsequent architecture of Queluz was influenced by new ideas and concepts. When work recommenced in 1758, the design was adapted for fear of another earthquake. Thus the later works take the form of low, long buildings, more structurally stable than a single high block: as a result, viewed from a distance the palace resembles long enfilades linked by higher pavilions rather than one single construction.