How can a large art museum in a popular European capital be considered a hidden gem? To be sure, Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art doesn’t have the name recognition or media exposure of the city’s other major art institutions. Nevertheless, it offers museumgoers the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in Portuguese culture and its connection to the wider world.
The museum’s attractions begin with its façade, painted tawny gold, and complete with a stately baroque entryway. Once inside, visitors are encouraged to start on the top floor where paintings and sculptures from native Portuguese artists are exhibited. Most feature religious themes such as “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata” by Frei Carlos, who was actually a Flemish-born monk living in Portugal. The famed “Saint Vincent Panels” by Nuno Gonçalves assemble together many figures active in 15th-century Lisbon society, like a modern-day magazine cover shot by Annie Leibovitz.
The second floor features decorative arts and fine furniture, many of the pieces acquired during Portugal’s period of exploration. The first floor is home to an exquisite collection of wider European art such as Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptations of Saint Anthony,” which depicts St. Anthony the Great among uniquely-Bosch creatures such as a snout-faced man and flying fish. Also found on this level is the Chapel of the Albertas, a small 16th-century shrine that belonged to a convent once located on the site.
One of the most impressive features of the museum may be the outdoor sculpture garden. The high terrace offers a magnificent view of the Tagus River and the city’s scenic surroundings.
Know Before You Go
A potential factor contributing to the museum's relative obscurity may be that its primary entrance is off a main avenue, and partly hidden by a small park out front.
An onsite restaurant offers scrumptious Portuguese staples such as pastéis de nata (egg tarts) and codfish cakes. With outdoor seating and a beautiful garden, it's the perfect cap to a few hours spent viewing wonderful art.