Today, the second day of November, it’s also the first Sunday of the month which means you have free entrance to all Museums in Lisbon. Considering the limited time we had to visit today, we narrowed the list down to our three favorite art museums: a must see, an intermediate (worth the visit, but slightly off the path for most tourists) and a complete off the path for most tourists. Also, you can easily travel from one museum to the other, by using public transportation. (Check the maps in the post)
Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
Even if you are completely dedicated to off the path when you are traveling, some places you have to visit. And not just because every travel guide tells you to. The Monastery has been UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.Its construction started in 1501 and ended in 1601 and not only it is an undeniable icon of Lisbon it is also a remarkable symbol of three major architectural moments in Europe: from a pure Manueline (or Portuguese Late Gothic) slightly evolving to Plateresque and morphing into Renaissance. Constructions as big as these took, of course, many years to complete, therefore, it’s hard to say the style is purely this or that. However, the Manueline traits are what pop the moment you see it: the columns that look like ropes, the decorative elements that look like leaves and acorns, also elements very linked to sea and the age of Discoveries like shells and pearls; you also start to see some influence in the architecture from the new Newfoundland of India.
Of course, because it’s such a popular place to visit if you throw a free entrance on top of that you can expect long queues and a crowded space.
National Museum of Ancient Art
The National Museum of Ancient Art (MNAA or Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga) is one of my favorite museums in Lisbon. Two months ago when I wrote a guest post for In Pursuit Of Adventure I highlighted the Museum for its collection and its cafe/restaurant with an amazing view over Lisbon. It doesn’t stand out and it’s not exactly within reach easily; it has a very particular collection so it takes some love and curiosity for Art History to take you into visiting it. It is definitely a place you will want to lose track of time in and where you’ll spend a lot of time admiring and taking pictures.
The Museum is divided into three floors: European Paintings and Decorative Arts on the first floor; Portuguese pottery, jewelry, glass and Oriental arts on the second floor; Portuguese paintings and sculpture on the third floor. If I had to choose one floor to spend most of my time in, it would be the third — those are the paintings I remember from the History textbooks from school with special attention to the Saint Vincent Panels. These six panels (oil on oak) are attributed to artist Nuno Gonçalves and are believed to have been painted in the 1460’s. Ever since the panels were found in 1880 in the Monastery of Saint Vincent (hence the name), there have been many interpretations around its origin and representation. Do you love a work of art with some mystery around it as much as I do? Despite all the stories and questions raised, the most common interpretation of who is depicted in the panels is as follows (from left to right): Panel of the Friars, Panel of the Fishermen, Panel of the Prince, Panel of the Knights and Panel of the Relic.
National Museum of Tile
You know you can’t think Portugal without thinking tile. This particular decorative art form has been part of our History and culture since the 12th century and before that since the Arabs, it’s such a big part of our identity that you can’t miss out on learning more about it.
This museum is set inside the Convent of Madre de Deus, and its Church is a symbol of Baroque decoration to the core: the blue and white tiles on the walls and the gilded woodwork. Apart from temporary exhibitions always linked to ceramics, the permanent exhibitions show you, chronologically, the evolution of tiles (from decoration to patterns, to techniques).
Because it is such a specific Museum it probably doesn’t go up on the list of things to see in Lisbon for most of the visitors. It also isn’t set in a glamorous part of the city, but if you really are a Museum enthusiast it is worth the visit.
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