1933 - 1942

Lancelot Ribeiro (christened Lanceloté José Belarmino Ribeiro) was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). His father, João José Fernando Flores Ribeiro (1902-1988) was a chartered accountant and his mother, Lília Maria Cecília Ribeiro (née Antunes) (1901-1987), a milliner and tailor. She had lost her first husband at the age of twenty-three, and then a daughter, Zemira aged two and a half, todiphtheria. Her son - Ribeiro’s older half-brother - would become the well-known artist F. N. Souza (1924-2002).

It was in January 1933 that Lily remarried and Lancelot Ribeiro was born on 28 November 1933, followed by a sister, Marina Ribeiro (1935-2015), two years later.

John and Lily Ribeiro on their wedding day, January 1933
Photograph of Lily and Ribeiro
Ribeiro and his mother, Lily, 1934
Souza (standing), Marina and Ribeiro (seated, right), Hira Building, Bombay,1936
Ribeiro aged around three, Hira Building, 1936

The family home in Bombay’s Hira Building overlooked Crawford Market and the PoliceCommissioner’s Office. Family letters reveal that the city of his childhood was a lively and cosmopolitan place thriving in the arts, culture and sciences. It was still, however, an India under the British Empire.

View of Crawford Market from Hira Building, 1940s

Ribeiro’s schooling cemented a strong Catholic education. From 1939 to 1942, he attended St Xavier’s School in Bombay run by the Jesuit priests. In 1942, his mother transferred him out to place him in the boarding school, St Mary’s (Senior Cambridge School), in Mount Abu, Rajputana where she believed he would thrive. Having to endure the harsh and sadistic regime of the Irish Christian Brothers, he would later note:

“From too early an age I was troubled by ‘Father why hast thou forsaken me?’ Never could figure it out…”  

Untitled (Crucifixion), c. 1964, oil and polyvinyl acetate on PVA-based canvas, 86 x 70 cm

From 1946 to 1950, he returned to Bombay and was enrolled at St Xavier’s High School.

Ribeiro’s sketchbook from St Xavier’s High School, c.1948
Ribeiro's school paintings, 1948
Untitled (Townscape), c.1966, oil and polyvinyl acetate on canvas, 114 x84.5 cm

The Ribeiro ancestral home was in Goa - the former Portuguese colony on India’s west coast which had been a ‘possession’ of the Portuguese Empire for 400 years. The Portuguese had brought the Roman Catholic faith there, and its landscape and imposing hillside churches would weave their way into Ribeiro's artistic consciousness and visual expression. In a 1972 lecture, he explained:

“My first influences if I can recall themin the order they happened, were the Churches and Statuary of the Catholic Church in Goa along with the symbolic ritual that went with it...”

Ribeiro's photograph of the fields of Goa, c.1968.

“…Arriving in Goa from Bombay by air is just 40 minutes but as these minutes go by the change in the landscape is staggering. The choked barrenness of the first 35 minutes give the feeling that whatever vegetation there is blisters and turns to the colour of ash... Andthen! As if in the 36th minute you see Goa bursting from the lip of the Arabian Sea... It was this visual beauty that made the Portuguese hold on to Goa so doggedly... who felt Goa should remain as it always was – Goa Dourado [Golden Goa]”

Ribeiro, undated diary entry

As the years passed, the subcontinent underwent significant political upheaval. Discontent at the presence of the British was everywhere. On 15 August 1947, India secured its Independence from Britain and Ribeiro never forgot the effect of Partition slicing through the country.

Photograph of Independence Day (family archive), August 15, 1947