National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon

The National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon is a delight for anyone who loves medieval to mid-19th century art and artifacts. It can be found in the Palácio de Alvor-Pombal, and is also known as the Museu das Janelas Verdes because of its distinctive green windows street.

Portugal kept quite an extensive collection of Portuguese and European art as part of the nation's official collection until the 1910 revolution. After that, the collection was divided up into ancient and contemporary art and a museum was made for each. The Museum of Contemporary Art became the home for all of the nation's art and artifacts dated circa 1850 to the present. The National Museum of Ancient Art took in everything older than what was held in the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Paintings comprise a large part of the National Museum of Ancient Art's collection. Some of these paintings go back to the 1400s and are excellent representations of Portugal's past. Some paintings even provide clues as to secrets from that distant past. Of course, paintings aren't all an intrepid visitor will find at the museum. Furniture, sculptures, and even some very rare and valuable ancient textiles that have survived the centuries are housed there.

The most famous exhibit at the museum is the 6-piece Saint Vincent Panels painting. This is one of the earliest known examples of collective portraiture in Europe. Its 60 panels that fit together to form a whole portrait were painted in the 1470s and are important to historians as well as to artists. This is because the panels show representations of people from all classes of Portuguese society from this time. This shows how every class in Portugal looked and what they wore during the mid to late 1400's. This is something of which other direct evidence is lacking, with the exception of the aristocracy. Painted by Nuno Gonçalves, the panels show Portuguese people paying homage to Saint Vincent. Many visitors come to the museum especially to see the Saint Vincent Panels.

Even older than some of the paintings in the museum is the metalwork. There are some pieces there that date back to the 1100s. The metal in at least one of the metalwork sculptures is said to be made out of gold brought to Portugal from Africa in the early 1500s by famed explorer Vasco de Gama.

Ancient Portuguese furniture is located in the museum and gives a fascinating look at what home life was like in Portugal for different classes of families in times past. A collection of wooden statues from the 1400s is a rarity among antiquities, as wood is not known for holding up well over the centuries. Yet the National Museum of Ancient Art has a small collection of these that have survived many centuries through overwhelming odds. Not very many museums in the world can boast such a thing.

Finally, as the Portuguese were known for their exploring in past centuries, the museum has some non-Portuguese and even non-European items. These items are largely from discovery missions the Portuguese undertook in the 1400s and 1500s. Among the collection is a set of oriental pottery from the 1500s that depict the arrival of Portuguese sailors.

The National Museum of Ancient Art holds items that are not just of value and significance to Portugal but to the world. Yet Portugal is the only place where you can see these things in person. No trip to Lisbon is complete without taking a look into Portugal's past at this amazing museum.


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