From Classical art to Modernism, from historic palaces to buildings designed by contemporary architects, here’s a brief guide to the the best Lisbon museums.
The best Lisbon museums
There is painting, sculpture, Portuguese decorative arts and Asian or African art (that take you back to the Portuguese Discoveries era) from the Middle Ages to the 19th century: there are more than 40 thousand pieces to see at this museum, which has national treasures and renowned works of art. Don’t miss the painted porcelain, the fine jewellery, and the grand São Vicente’s panels, on display at the fantastic rooms of this late 18th century palace.
See The light and the charm of Venice through Canaletto’s painting (or Giovanni Antonio Canal’s), The Grand canal from the campo San Vio, on display until July 2nd.
Time travel, galloping, into what is considered the most visited Portuguese museum ever. It has a new building since 2015, a wide and modern place, where you can see the carriages, the coaches, the pushchairs and strollers, and other vehicles on wheels – like the one with bullet holes: yes, the same that carried D. Carlos and his heir son D. Luís Filipe, both murdered in Terreiro do Paço in 1908. The royal’s life is told among these velvet seats. The museum, at its original location, the Picadeiro Real – just a few yards from the new location – was inaugurated 112 years ago by queen D. Amélia de Orleães and Bragança (a French princess who married a Portuguese king).
See Retrato de um aggressor is the plastic art exhibition that brings something completely different to the museum and that’ll be on display until July 31st: it’s about gender violence issues.
This collection has about 6,000 pieces, but only 1,000 or so are part of the permanent exhibition. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum opened its doors in 1969 and is part of the foundation of the same name. It is divided into two independent areas: one dedicated to oriental and classical art; the other to art of European heritage.
See Portugal em Flagrante – Operação 1, 2 e 3, a semi-permanent collection that narrates, throughout its three floors (designs, paintings, and sculptures) the history of art and culture in Portugal from the beginning of the 20th century until the present day with the fundamental works of its artists.
The Museum of the Orient illustrates the long history of Portugal’s relations with Asia, with sumptuous works from the age of the maritime Discoveries but also some rare and unusual pieces, such as the Namban hat in lacquered paper that the Japanese invented in imitation of the pointed hats of Portuguese traders. On Sundays the museum restaurant does brunch with a river view, featuring specialities from Asia.
Building work from July at the Museum of Design and Fashion means displays will be moved to another space in the city for the latter half of 2016, but until then exhibitions are on at this former bank building on Rua Augusta. Items range from a radio designed by the Castiglioni brothers and a giant lamp by Gaetano Pesce to furniture by Le Corbusier and clothing by Gautier... and even an audio cassette player.
Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, Neo-Dada or Pop Art. Don’t be intimidated and trust your senses. Museu Colecção Berardo collects colourful art of all shapes, sizes and textures, from paintings to installation art, with the ability to communicate easily. It’s through the works it presents that the history of art and its timeline, from the 20th century to the present day, is told. Boldness and exuberance are the adjectives of this permanent exposition, which features Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol or Helena Almeida’s works. Integrated into Centro Cultural de Belém’s building, the museum was baptized with the name of its collector, the madeirense Joe Berardo.
See Pablo Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (métamorphose), valued at 18 million euros, it’s one the most valuable pieces of this collection.
This little museum near the Sé Cathedral opened in 2015 in a building with some dark memories. The Aljube was an ecclesiastical prison, then a jail for women and, from 1928, a place where political prisoners were held by the dictatorship of António Oliveira Salazar. The secret police were key to the regime’s functioning, and the museum’s collections include documents that reveal their role and that of censorship. You can also 'attend' a 3D underground meeting with pamphlets tapped out on a typewriter shielded with wood, to deaden the sound of the keys.
This building designed by prize- winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura is the jewel in the crown of the Bairro dos Museus in Cascais, a ‘Museum District’ created to generate synergies between 12 local institutions. It stages two temporary exhibitions a year but 22 paintings and 29 drawings by Rego, one of Portugal’s best- known artists are permanently on display; among highlights are Centaur (1964) and Angel (1998).
A national monument since 1910, Ajuda is a former royal residence turned museum of decorative arts. It offers guided tours and hosts exhibitions that take people on a journey through history. To understand the origins of this palace, we need to go back to 1755, when the royal family was staying in its Belém residence and the great earthquake happened. After that, King Joseph I refused to return to 'brick and limestone' buildings. The solution was to choose a new, safer house. And it’s easy to understand why they ended up at the Palace of Ajuda.
In the former Convent of Madre Deus, built in the 15th century, visitors are transported back in time to when mosaics progressed rom being pavements to become decorative elements in their own right, thanks to Moorish influence. Dom Manuel I started the fashion in 1508, when he ordered 10,000 azulejos (ceramic tiles) from Seville for his new royal palace in Sintra. But this museum has lots more to offer, including a 23-metre tile panel depicting the city of Lisbon before the 1755 Earthquale.
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