Regarding the distribution of conventual dependencies, the initial blueprint for the Monastery of Batalha followed the pattern of other mediaeval monasteries as far back as the oldest Benedictine tradition. Like other monasteries, in particular those with royal patronage, it was constantly added to over time with the likes of grand funeral chapels as well as new cloisters and their outlying dependencies. The pantheons of King João I and his son King Duarte were the first Portuguese royal funeral chapels to be conceived as independent buildings.
Since the end of the 14th century to the first years of the 16th, the Monastery of Batalha was the greatest and most advanced architectural project in the country. It was an exercise in daring architectural and building problem solving, where artists and artisans from other countries flocked to join national artistic masters and elevate the existing traditions to new heights. For more than a century Batalha was a focal point for the reception and dissemination of artistic tendencies, just as other European cathedrals had also functioned as a school for all kinds of architects and building masters.
The first buildings, projected and executed under the direction of Master Afonso Domingues, drank from the well of the Radiant Gothic tradition that was prevalent in Portugal at the time. What stands out in these structures is their scale and the fact that they are completely vaulted. The spatial qualities of the church, intimated in its main façade with a central nave dominating the naves flanking it, are nonetheless identical to any other mendicant place of worship in Portugal since the middle of the 13th century. On the other hand, the daring ceiling structures are indicative of the experience gained from visiting Lisbon Cathedral, and the upper choir of the church of Saint Francisco of Santarém. Also the cloister, projected and partially-constructed by the Portuguese architect, has local stylistic precedents that can be traced back to the cloister of Porto Cathedral. The portal to the transept echoes various previous gothic portals built here.
In order to complete construction of the church and the Royal Cloister, the architect Huguet of course had to make concessions to what had already been done: on the one hand, the previously-constructed supports for the vaults made any innovation difficult; on the other, it seems that consistency was a major preoccupation for the new architect, as the new naves of the cloister he built show. In these buildings, any innovation did not go beyond altering the shapes of the nervures and keystones of the vaults and, in the exclusive case of the cloister, the columns of the pillars.
In spite of this, the church did grant some opportunities to rethink the original plan. We certainly have Huguet to thank for the great lateral windows of the main chapel which came to revolutionise the illumination of the choirs of traditional mendicant churches. The balconies and low roofs are also his, likewise the flaming capstones of pinnacles and platibands, the crosspieces adorning a good number of windows and finally, but no less importantly, the main portal. All these show an architectural style akin to international Gothic, which could only have happened thanks to the arrival at Batalha of a master who had been schooled abroad.
Where Huguet came from is not known for sure. However, the terraces and low roofs remind us of the Cathedral of Palma de Majorca, the similarity between the portal and that designed by the Architect Carlí for Barcelona Cathedral, and between its sculptures and those on the portal of the church of Saint Maria de Ampúrias, as well has the star-shaped vaults that were realised in the Founder’s Chapel and the Chapter House and had been planned for the Unfinished Chapels would point to the general geographic area of the Kingdom of Aragon, which included part of what is now Catalonia but also extended to the Balearic Islands and the Kingdom of Naples. One can most certainly detect more ancient sources of inspiration in the portal, namely various 13th century portals found in Normandy. Nonetheless, the time it took for such influences to reach Portugal can only be explained by the roundabout route they took to get here. In any case, the portal at Batalha can be seen as an exception in the panorama of national architecture.
Huguet’s groundbreaking work did not end with the church. As a matter of fact he also designed and saw through the construction of the funeral chapel of King João I, more commonly known as the Founder’s Chapel, where he once and for all illustrated in the clearest, most eloquent of ways, his dominance of architectural techniques that had yet to be seen in Portugal: elaborately-wrought, low vaults covering wide surfaces; more slender, intricate supports; lavish windows with complex detailing that filled the interiors with copious light. The Founder’s Chapel appears to be a reinterpretation of an old tradition of funeral structures built around a central plan, which would be taken up again in the pantheon of King Duarte (The Unfinished Chapels) and would lead to a series of similar pantheons across the Iberian peninsula, of which the Chapel of the Constable at Burgos Cathedral, and the Chapel of Don Álvaro de Luna, at Toledo Cathedral, are prime examples.
Huguet’s teachings would be taken up by his disciple Martim Vasques, who, after the master builder’s death, began construction of the pantheon of King Duarte and most certainly concluded or maybe even rebuilt the daring vault of the chapter house. During the short reign of King Duarte, the regency of King Pedro and the rule of King Afonso V, more of the Monastery’s dependencies besides the pantheon were built. Among them was the Friars’ Cellar, the refectory and the kitchen. All were characterised by a simplicity which reminds us of namely the most ancient Cistercians structures, as their style cannot be explained away solely by the practical uses towards which they were put.
Simplicity and severity in equal measure dictate in the Cloister of King Afonso V, which, as was the case with other courtly buildings of the time, was symptomatic of an austere temperament and reminds us of various 14th century buildings in Catalonia, which may have served as direct inspiration. The influence of the Cistercians across Catalonian mediaeval architecture is well known.