The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is a true sanctuary for those who appreciate the beauty and grandeur of art. Founded in 1884 and housed in the resplendent Palácio Alvor for over a century, this cultural gem boasts an unrivaled public collection of over 40,000 objects spanning various eras and continents, from exquisite paintings and sculptures to precious gold and silverware, and decorative arts from Europe, Africa, and the Far East.
Not only does this exceptional museum house an impressive collection of national treasures, it is also home to a number of paramount works of art that are globally recognized as part of humanity's artistic heritage. Over the years, the collection has been augmented through generous donations and important acquisitions, displaying some of the finest artistic achievements created or amassed in Portugal between the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era.
The garden, overlooking the River Tagus, is a luminous highlight of the museum, and offers the ideal setting for an invigorating pause. The museum itself is housed in a 17th-century palace, erected on the site of a Carmelite convent from the 16th century, whose Baroque chapel can still be glimpsed.
Within the museum's walls, visitors can feast their eyes on an impressive array of paintings by Portuguese artists such as Nuno Gonçalves, Frei Carlos, Vasco Fernandes, and Gregório Lopes, as well as masterpieces by European greats such as Memling, Bosch, Dürer, Holbein, Gerard David, Lucas Cranach, Morales, Pieter de Hooch, Zurbarán, Piero della Francesca, Rafael, Fragonard, and Courbet. The museum also boasts collections of religious sculpture from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, featuring beautiful cribs by Machado de Castro, as well as decorative arts such as Portuguese and oriental ceramics, furniture, Arraiolos carpets, and textiles.
A particular highlight is the museum's unparalleled collection of gold and silverware, comprising the most significant assemblage in Portugal, spanning from the Middle Ages to the 18th century Baroque period, and including breathtaking silver tableware crafted by the French Germain goldsmiths for the Portuguese royal family. The museum's holdings also feature a collection of decorative objects from Africa, India, and China, encompassing carved ivory, furniture, embroidery, silverware, porcelain, silks, and a Namban art collection featuring Japanese screens and lacquerware.
Overall, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is a wondrous and illuminating destination that I hold in high esteem. As a major player in international museum collaborations, the MNAA is a pioneering institution in the realm of conservation and museum management, and its education services are widely regarded as some of the finest in Portugal. Whether you are a seasoned art connoisseur or simply seeking a delightful cultural experience, the National Museum of Ancient Art is an unmissable destination.