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Museu Nacional do Azulejo

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The museum is housed in the old Convent of Madre-de-Deusin Xabregas, founded by Queen Leonor in 1509. It is an open and bright place, cool and silent. During construction, the waters of the river came so close that for a long time, they threatened both the building work and the faithful. It has undergone several changes and restoration projects in its time, mainly during the reign of King Joāo III, and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when under the direction of architect Joāo Maria Nepomuceno, the Manueline facade, which had disappeared, was reconstructed. The portico is decorated with small, twisted columns crowned with pinnacles and trilobite arches, featuring a pelican and a shrimp net - symbols of the founder and her husband, King Joao II. It is in fact a replica of the original, which was inspired the Santa Auta panels, in which the early church figured in the background.

The convent contains vivid examples of the history of sacred art and of course azulejos. It also has within its confines the Church of Madre-de-Deus,one of the most beautiful in Lisbon. The church is decorated with rich gilded wood carvings and has fine paintings and panels of blue and white ceramic tiles from Holland. The interior of the convent is divided into rooms ranged around the two cloisters, built and altered as the convent grew. This, and the museum's collection from down the ages, shows the history of tile art in Portugal.

The museum is relatively recent. In 1959, in the wake of works to prepare for an exhibition on Queen Leonor, the founder of the convent, the idea was mooted to use the space as a tile museum and take advantage of the many panels of azulejos in the convent. The museum opened its doors in 1965 under the guidance of Joāo Miguel Santos Simōes, an expert in the field, and with the help of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

In its early years, the museum functioned as merely a section of the National Museum of Ancient Art. The bulk of its acquisitions were tiles made

27. Flower vase on a panel from the former convent

of N.S. da Esperança, Lisbon (XVII c.) 185 x142 cm.

before the nineteenth century. In any case,the nineteenth century tiles were nearly all to be found on the facades of private houses, and sold exclusively according to the will of the owners. In 1980, the museum acquired the status of national museum, and the following years were spent organising it, and researching and recording the history and value of the collection of this quintessentially Portuguese art form, which now includes contemporary work.

The museum illustrates how the five-thousand-year-old art evolved in Portugal, from the glazed tile work from Granada and the cuerda seca of Hispano-Arabic tile art, to the current day, demonstrating the main techniques of manufacture.

Ceramic tiles were used in several countries in Europe, even before Portugal, but it was here that they became fashionable in ornamental art. They have evolved and changed throughout the centuries, adding grandeur and character to other arts, especially architecture.

Portuguese tile work has had several influences, examples of which can all be found at the museum. Tiles only began to have truly Portuguese characteristics during the sixteenth century. Since then, they have been used on a much wider scale, and it is almost impossible to find major buildings which do not have at least one example of tile work in their decoration. The Italian renaissance is one of the first European influences to have reached the peninsula. Then followed influences from Seville and Talavera in Spain, where the first imitations of rich cloth were made, as well as altar frontals - ceramic copies of the luxuriant textiles that covered the altars in churches. Also to be found in the museums are examples of the Oriental and Flemisharts, the latter of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, showing how tiles have evolved. This ran be seen both in the panels created by gifted painters, or through the simple designs of modest artisans. The different colours used up to the end of the seventeenth century show the freedom of design from the manganese patterns, and the purely blue and white tiles of Flemish influence, dating from the return of the masters to the authored panel. It was in the eighteenth century that Portuguese ceramic tile art really became established in its own right. Brazilian gold was lining many people's pockets, andsecular architecture in this period competed with and sometimes surpassed religious, architecture in splendour. Among the artists who painted mythological scenes, scenes from the Restoration of Independence and paintings depicting everyday life - typical of the Baroque period - António tie Oliveira Bernardes deserves special mention. The museum contains several examples of these panels, which celebrate life as the most important art. They are adorned with curtains, like stages depicting scenes of hunts, court life, stories and landscapes.

There are many pieces on display, including the noted sixteenth-century retable, thought tobe dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Vida and apanoramic panel of Lisbon. The former, probably by Marçal de Matosusing the maiolica technique, is made up of 1,384 polychrome tiles, covering an almost square-shaped surface of 23 square metres. St. Gabriel, the Virgin of the Anunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, St. John the Evangelist ,andSt. Luke all figure in the Mannerist style panel. The panel of Lisbon features a detailed panoramic view of the city between Cruz Quebrada and Xabregas, prior to the great earthquake. It is made up of 1,300 blue and white ceramic tiles andis approximately 23 metres long.

The museum also contains examples of post-earthquake tiles, which are simpler and feature repetitive motifs. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, colour began to feature again in ceramic art, and has stayed to the present day. Despite the fact that famous names in the nineteenth century, such as Jorge Colaço and Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, only touched upon tile work, preferring instead other forms of art, the twentieth century brought a new interest in ceramics. In fact, contemporary Portuguese ceramic art has been (created by prestigious artists such as Jorge Barradas, Mariaa Keil, Almada Ncgieiros, Cargalerio, Querubim Lapa, Carlos Botelho, Sá Nogueira, Júlio Pomar, Eduardo Nery, Joào Abel Manta, Lima de Freitas and Vieira da Silva, among others. One example of the recent renewed interest in the art of the azulejo can be seen in the Lisbon Underground, where the stations are decorated in contemporary style.



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