Explore Beira Alta and Beira Baixa
The greatest treasure of Viseu is the Museu Grão Vasco, sited in the former Bishop’s palace which adjoins the cathedral; the entrance is on Praça da Sé. The museum celebrates the work of Vasco Fernandes (known always as Grão Vasco, The Great Vasco), who became the key figure in a school of painting that flourished here in the first half of the sixteenth century. His earliest work was on the fourteen panels tracing the Life of Christ (1501–1506), commissioned for the altarpiece of Viseu cathedral – note the vividly imagined Adoration of the Magi which topically presents Balthasar as a Brazil-inspired Indian with feathered headdress (Cabral had discovered Brazil in 1500). Centrepiece of the collection is Grão Vasco’s masterly St Peter on His Throne (1530–1535), painted for a chapel altar in Viseu cathedral – the painting has been mounted freestanding so that you can see how the original frame and canvas were assembled. There is more in the museum – nineteenth-century Portuguese art to Oriental porcelain and textiles – but the sixteenth-century artworks are the undisputed highlight. You can take a break in the pleasant courtyard café.