The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Portugal’s national gallery, is situated in the wealthy suburb of Lapa, near the Alcântara docks. It features the largest collection of Portuguese fifteenth- and sixteenth-century paintings in the country, European art from the fourteenth century to the present day, and a rich display of applied art showing the influence of Portugal’s colonial explorations. All of this is well displayed in a beautifully converted seventeenth-century palace, once owned by the Marquês de Pombal. The garden and café are worth a visit in their own right. The palace was built over the remains of the Saint Albert monastery, most of which was razed in the 1755 earthquake, although its beautiful chapel can still be seen today.
The museum highlights ten “reference points” to guide you round the extensive collection. Principal highlight is Nuno Gonçalves’s altarpiece for Saint Vincent (1467–70), a brilliantly marshalled composition depicting Lisbon’s patron saint receiving homage from all ranks of its citizens, their faces looking remarkably modern. The other main highlight is Hieronymus Bosch’s stunningly gruesome Temptation of St Anthony in room 57 (don’t miss the image on the back, showing the arrest of Christ). Elsewhere, seek out the altar panel depicting the Resurrection by Raphael; Francisco de Zurbarán’s The Twelve Apostles; a small statue of a nymph by Auguste Rodin and works by Albrecht Dürer, Cranach, Fragonard and Josefa de Óbidos, considered one of Portugal’s greatest women painters.
The Oriental art collection shows the influence of Indian, African and Oriental designs derived from the trading links of the sixteenth century. There is inlaid furniture from Goa, Turkish and Syrian azulejos, Quing Dynasty porcelain and a supremely satisfying series of late sixteenth-century Japanese namban screens (room 14), showing the Portuguese landing at Nagasaki. The Japanese saw the Portuguese traders as southern barbarians (namban) with large noses – hence their Pinocchio-like features.Read More