The 17th-century palace that's now home to the Ancient Art Museum
Created as the Fine Arts Museum in 1884, the Ancient Art Museum is Portugal’s “national gallery,” with paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Housed in a 17th-century palace, it displays most of the “national treasures,” plus art from around Europe and the Asian lands that traded with the Portuguese.
The Panels of St. Vincent, the museum's showpiece
Much of the collection dates from the so-called “Age of Discovery,” the period between the early 15th century and the late 18th century, when Portuguese navigators opened the sea route to the East, creating the first exchanges between European cultures and different parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Some of those navigators are among the sixty 15th-century personalities depicted in the museum’s showpiece, the Panels of St. Vincent. It’s the first known collective portrait in Western Art, and considered the greatest masterpiece of Portuguese painting. Attributed to artist Nuno Gonçalves, it also features the most famous portrait of Prince Henry the Navigator.
Also from that period are fascinating Japanese screens illustrating the Portuguese arriving in Japan, and the Belém Monstrance from 1506 made with gold and gems brought back by explorer Vasco da Gama.
The Belém Monstrance, made with gold and gems brought from the East by Vasco da Gama
In the European collection, the highlights are Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” from 1501, and Albrecht Dürer’s “Saint Jerome.” Other artists represented are Piero della Francesca, Tiepolo, Van Dyck, and Zurbarán.
Hieronymus Bosch’s “Temptation of Saint Anthony” is one of the museum's highlights
In the Portuguese gallery, look for Gregório Lopes’ “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” (16th century), Domingos Sequeira’s “The Adoration of the Magi” (from 1828), and “Hell” by an unknown master from the early 16th century.
Albrecht Dürer’s “Saint Jerome” is another highlight in the European collection
The most significant works in the sculpture collection are a St. Leonard by Andrea della Robbia, and a Portuguese two-headed fountain from the early 16th century. In the decorative arts section, the highlights are a table centrepiece by François-Thomas Germain and Chinese porcelain. There’s also an entire room known as Sala Patiño, built in 1769 by French architect Isidore Canevale for a palace in Vienna, which is considered a masterpiece of French decorative arts.
The Albertas Chapel, part of the original palace
Part of the building is the Albertas Chapel, which was once connected to the palace. It’s a perfect example of the “golden churches” of Portuguese baroque, and although it’s much smaller than a similar famous church in the Tile Museum, it’s just as striking for its sumptuous display of gilt carvings and blue-and-white tile panels.
The garden of the Ancient Art Museum
After touring all four floors, check out the temporary exhibitions and the cafeteria on the ground level, which includes a delightful garden dotted with sculptures. There’s outdoor seating for meals and drinks with views of the port and 25 de Abril Bridge.
How to Get to the Ancient Art Museum
Bus 714, which departs from Praça da Figueira, stops across the street from the entrance to the museum. Tram 25, which also departs from Praça da Figueira, stops down the street on Rua São João da Mata, in front of the Church of Santos-o-Velho. In Praça da Figueira you may also hop on tram 15, which goes through the waterfront, down Avenida 24 de Julho, and stops at Cais da Rocha, where you see stairs leading up to the museum.
You may ride the bus and trams for free with the Lisboa Card.
Rua das Janelas Verdes, Santos
Admission and Tickets to the Ancient Art Museum
General admission is €6. For those over the age of 65 it’s €3.00 (ID required). It’s free with the Lisboa Card.
It's closed on Mondays
There’s another museum within walking distance, the Marionette Museum, in the neighborhood of Madragoa.
Where to Stay by the Ancient Art Museum
It looks like an ordinary Lisbon building from outside, but this is actually one of Lisbon’s most beautiful mansions. Built in the 1700s, it was featured in one of Portugal’s classic novels, “The Maias,” by author Eça de Queirós, and was also home to American pop star Madonna for over a year, when she moved to Lisbon in 2017. It’s just steps from the Ancient Art Museum, and hides 12 elegant rooms and suites, plus an outdoor pool and sundeck.
York House Hotel
What was built as a convent in the 17th century is now a romantic hotel. Located down the street from the Ancient Art Museum, it maintains the original architecture but mixes a contemporary and classic décor. The charming courtyard is part of the restaurant, known for its fine Portuguese cuisine.