The Awesome Mr Gulbenkian: Part Two – Europe from the Middle Ages to the Impressionists

…continued from Part One….

Gothic Ivories

Gulbenkian first became interested in medieval ivories at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900 – but it took him 14 years to get his hands on one.  In the end, he created a lovely little collection that was fascinating to look at.

Triptych with scenes from the Life and Death of the Virgin, 'Death of the Virgin' Master, Paris, 1280-1300, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Triptych with scenes from the Life and Death of the Virgin, ‘Death of the Virgin’ Master, Paris, 1280-1300, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Massacre of the Innocents and the Flight to Egypt, from a diptych with Scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ, Paris, c1300/20, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Massacre of the Innocents and the Flight to Egypt, from a diptych with Scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ, Paris, c1300/20, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, from a diptych with Scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ, Paris, c1300/20, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, from a diptych with Scenes from the Life and Passion of Christ, Paris, c1300/20, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Tabernacle with Crucifixion and Scenes from the Passion of Christ, Cologne, c1300/10, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Tabernacle with Crucifixion and Scenes from the Passion of Christ, Cologne, c1300/10, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Crucifixion from the Tabernacle with Crucifixion and Scenes from the Passion of Christ, Cologne, c1300/10, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of the Crucifixion from the Tabernacle with Crucifixion and Scenes from the Passion of Christ, Cologne, c1300/10, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Diptych with Scenes from the Crucifixion, Deposition, Flagellation and Entombment, Paris, c1290-1310, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Diptych with Scenes from the Crucifixion, Deposition, Flagellation and Entombment, Paris, c1290-1310, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail showing some red paint and patterned fabric from the diptych with Scenes from the Crucifixion, Deposition, Flagellation and Entombment, Paris, c1290-1310, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail showing some red paint and patterned fabric from the diptych with Scenes from the Crucifixion, Deposition, Flagellation and Entombment, Paris, c1290-1310, ivory, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

European Painting

Only about half of the 200 paintings that Gulbenkian bought are actually on show, but what is out, is great.  Whether the work is Northern Renaissance or Impressionist, the unifying factor is again Gulbenkian’s taste for delicacy, refinement and exquisite detail.

Detail of St Catherine, Rogier van der Weyden, c1435/37, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Catherine, Rogier van der Weyden, c1435/37, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Joseph, Rogier van der Weyden, c1435/37, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Joseph, Rogier van der Weyden, c1435/37, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (and the Stigmatization of St Francis), Stefan Lochner, Cologne, 1447, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (and the Stigmatization of St Francis), Stefan Lochner, Cologne, 1447, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

 The Stigmatization of St Francis (and the Presentation of the Temple), Stefan Lochner, Cologne, 1447, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

The Stigmatization of St Francis (and the Presentation of the Temple), Stefan Lochner, Cologne, 1447, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of a young couple, unknown Flemish artist, c1540, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of a young couple, unknown Flemish artist, c1540, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail from Holy Family with Donors, Vittore Carpaccio, 1505, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail from Holy Family with Donors, Vittore Carpaccio, 1505, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of a young woman, Domenico Ghirlandaio, c1490, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of a young woman, Domenico Ghirlandaio, c1490, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Marco Antonio Savelli, Giovanni-Battista Moroni, c1543/7, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Marco Antonio Savelli, Giovanni-Battista Moroni, c1543/7, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

The portrait of Ruben’s wife, Helena, was particularly dear to Gulbenkian.  It had once belonged to Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and was then bought by Catherine the Great of Russia.  It was sold by the Antikvariat, and Gulbenkian liked to sit in front of the painting every day at his house in Paris, always finding something new to admire.

Portrait of Helena Fourment, Peter Paul Rubens, c1630/2, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of Helena Fourment, Peter Paul Rubens, c1630/2, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Other Antikvariat purchases were the two Rembrandts on show.  The extraordinary portrait of the Old Man is beautiful.  If you are a fan of Rembrandt, you’ll already doubtless appreciate his paintings of old men – he always captures a sadness and a wisdom in the faces, as well as a general dignity.  This painting is no different.  It was hypnotic and you can understand why Gulbenkian was himself obsessed with it.  He wrote to a friend saying, “I often recall it as it was in my house…bathed in a discerning light which was able to bring out all the nobility and gentle serenity of that remarkable face.”

Portrait of an Old Man, Rembrandt, 1645, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Portrait of an Old Man, Rembrandt, 1645, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Pallas Athena, Rembrandt, c1657, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Pallas Athena, Rembrandt, c1657, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

European Post-16th Century

One of the cute things about Gulbenkian is that you really feel like you get to know him through his collection.  So when you come upon some Italian velvet and you think, ‘Gosh, that looks like the Turkish stuff round the corner’ – you realise you’ve probably just got the reason why he bought it.

In the 15th and 16th centuries Italian velvet was mainly produced in Florence, Genoa and Venice.  Italian workshops created better quality fabrics than the Turkish, and their products still look so luxurious that you want to reach out and stroke them.  There is a very definite visual link between what’s on display in this and in the Ottoman gallery – the two markets are known to have influenced each other to such an extent that it’s hard to tell who originated which motif.

Velvet parasol, Venice, 16th century, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Velvet parasol, Venice, 16th century, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

St Martin Sharing his Cloak with a Beggar, unknown artist, Loire Valley, 1531, limestone, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

St Martin Sharing his Cloak with a Beggar, unknown artist, Loire Valley, 1531, limestone, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Martin Sharing his Cloak with a Beggar, unknown artist, Loire Valley, 1531, limestone, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of St Martin Sharing his Cloak with a Beggar, unknown artist, Loire Valley, 1531, limestone, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

There is an amazing collection of furniture on display in the 18th century gallery which, I must admit, I sort of ignored.  The items were actually bought for Gulbenkian’s house in Paris, so were of practical as well as aesthetic value.  But I don’t enjoy looking at furniture in museums, because if I like it, I want it, and as things stand, it’s considered illegal to carry writing desks out under your coat.  And awkward.

View of the lovely furniture and paintings on show at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the lovely furniture and paintings on show at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

18th century suit, France, silk, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

18th century suit, France, silk, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of an 18th century suit, France, silk, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of an 18th century suit, France, silk, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

If there are any Indian film fans out there – look who I saw!  It’s Shashi Kapoor!!!

Bust of Moliere, Jean-Jacques Caffieri, 1785, terracotta, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Bust of Moliere, Jean-Jacques Caffieri, 1785, terracotta, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

I was way more excited about that than I should have been.

Actually, the bust wasn’t produced during Moliere’s lifetime, so it’s not a portrait but a version of a statue commissioned by Louis XVI.  It was to be a part of a collection showing the great men of France.

Also, I’m not usually that into French paintings, but I really loved the collection of portraits, particularly those by Lépicié.

The Astronomer, Nicholas-Bernard Lépicié, c1777, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

The Astronomer, Nicholas-Bernard Lépicié, c1777, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Self-portrait, Nicholas-Bernard Lépicié, France, c1777, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Self-portrait, Nicholas-Bernard Lépicié, France, c1777, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Mlle Duplant, François-Andreé Vincent, France, 1793, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Mlle Duplant, François-Andreé Vincent, France, 1793, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Mrs Lowndes-Stone, Thomas Gainsborough, c1775, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Mrs Lowndes-Stone, Thomas Gainsborough, c1775, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Landscape in a Park, Eugene-Louis Lami, c1850, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.  I love the way the woman at the front is fishing.

Detail of Landscape in a Park, Eugene-Louis Lami, c1850, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal.  I love the way the woman at the front is fishing.

Henri Michel-Lévy, Edgar Degas, c1878, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Henri Michel-Lévy, Edgar Degas, c1878, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Les Bretonnes au Pardon, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, 1887, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Les Bretonnes au Pardon, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, 1887, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Les Bretonnes au Pardon, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, 1887, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Detail of Les Bretonnes au Pardon, Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, 1887, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Boats, Claude Monet, 1868, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

Boats, Claude Monet, 1868, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

So In Summary

The Gulbenkian Museum was one of the reasons I wanted to visit Lisbon.  Sometimes when you have these sorts of high expectations, it can be a bit disappointing.  But this wasn’t.  Sure, it was a shame that there weren’t more objects, but then you have to remember that this was one man buying what he wanted.  The displays are well designed and allow the visitor to really get close and see the objects as they are meant to be seen.  Most of all, it’s a pleasure to walk around the museum and feel that you’re getting to know its collector, and being charmed by what charmed him.

Further Information

There are actually two museums showing the Gulbenkian collection: I have talked about the original collection, but there is also a separate building dedicated to (mainly Portuguese) modern art.  I didn’t get there, but the ticket that grants you entry into one also gets you into the other.

There are also exhibitions on at the museum – but again, I didn’t have the time to visit any.

The Gulbenkian foundation runs the museums but also various other cultural institutions in Lisbon; if you check out their excellent website (in English) you can have a browse to see what they’re up to: www.gulbenkian.pt.  They also have seminars and a really cool schedule of events, so do check it out if you can.

How To Get There

The transport of Lisbon is run by these people, and their site is English: www.carris.pt

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