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National Museum of Historic Art

National Museum of Historic Art (13)

The National Museum of Historic Art or “Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga” is the official name of what Lisbon’s inhabitants call the “Museu das Janelas Verdes”, in English the “Museum of green windows”, due to the building once having windows painted in this colour.

Due to its size, diversity and the relevance of its collection, this museum is one of the most important in Portugal. Founded in 1884, it was the first public museum dedicated to the arts.

The historic art collection is found inside a 17th century palace once belonging to the Counts of Alvor and afterwards in 1770 the Marquis of Pombal. You may be interested to know that it was not until 1940 that an annex was built on what was previously the site of the Carmelite monastery of Saint Alberto. This was partly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and finally demolished between 1910 and 1920. The only remaining part of the convent is the 16th century baroque chapel whose interior is decorated in white and blue tiles and which forms a part of the museum’s exhibits.

On the lower floor you will find paintings by the greatest European masters from between the 14th and 19th century. On a tour followed chronologically some of the exhibits that stand out are the “Saint Jerónemo” by Durero and the “Temptations of Saint Antonio” by the Flemish master El Bosco. Also, there are displays of decorative art, artistic items and furniture.

On the second floor you will find another of the museum’s great collections: religious jewellery and Eastern decorative art captured during the time of the Portuguese conquests. Among many lovely items, we can pick out the Namban Japanese screens from the 16th century as being especially worth seeing.  These show Portuguese traders, in the traditional dress of the era, doing business in Japan. The name “Namban” means barbarian in Japanese, and was what the people of the country came to call their Portuguese visitors.  

On the third floor the museum displays pictorial pieces depicting Portuguese history. It includes a retrospective of events from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. Definitely worth a visit is the “Sao Vicente de Fora” altarpiece, a work of art from the 15th century by Nuno Gonçalves. It shows the adoration of Saint Vicente and a detailed portrait of the beggars, monks and dignitaries of the period, making it a historical and social document of great value.

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