Magnificent Art in Lisbon – Part One: Portuguese Art

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National Museum of Ancient Art, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal

Sometimes I worry that maybe I’ve become a bit jaded – maybe I visit too many museums, and maybe that’s why I don’t always find them as exciting as I hope.

But no.  It’s not me: it’s them.

Before going any further, I should clarify for the English speaker that though this museum is dedicated to ‘ancient’ art, it means ancient in the Romance language sense of old – somewhere between the classical and modern world.  It’s a real shame that the Archaeology Museum isn’t here as well, because then I think that way it would be better run and be more interesting than it is currently (the Archaeology Museum is part of the Jeronimos Monastery complex – no photos were allowed, and I didn’t enjoy the experience, so I haven’t written about it).

View of the museum from the road where you catch the tram/bus, National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon, Portugal

View of the museum from the road where you catch the tram/bus, National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon, Portugal

The Museum of Ancient Art was created in 1884 and comprises objects which had been the property of the church, and the royal palaces – plus subsequent donations and purchases.  The result is an exceptionally fine collection, housed in a grand 17th century palace of the Count of Alvor.  He had served in India as Viceroy and on his return he had himself built a substantial home which was kept up in high style by the subsequent owners.

What we see today is a tastefully modernised space, with only traces of the original grandeur visible.  In fact, as you’re walking around, it’s easy to forget that it was once a palace, but that’s not a bad thing.  The museum places the most importance in its objects and in showing them off perfectly.  Take the below picture of the Roman torso that is near the gift shop (and toilets), standing on its own – looking majestic.

Then you have a majestic St Michael greeting you as you enter the museum.

Portuguese Sculpture

Portuguese Painting

If, like me, you know nothing about Portuguese art, the galleries dedicated to these painters will be illuminating.  For me, one of the most interesting things was just how cute and full of homely detail they were.

Frei Carlos

One of the most interesting finds was the work of Frei Carlos.  He was a Flemish painter, who took his vows in 1517 at the Convent of Espinheiro in Évora, with the Order of the Hieronymite monks.  He worked in Évora, but also for other monasteries of his order.  Not a lot is known about him, but he seemed to have been inspired by the slightly old-fashioned Flemish style used by Hans Memling and Gerard David.  As a fan of Flemish art, I found Frei Carlos’ painting really charming – he goes for that contained-world type of thing you get with Memling and David, but the scale is usually larger with Carlos.

Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

In a room all to itself, there are some paintings which relate to the traumatic earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1755.  Most are by João Glama Ströberle, who was in the city at the time and spent decades completing his magnum opus – a painting depicting the disaster.

…please click here for part two…

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