In this article Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon we’ll be sharing with you public spaces in our city of the Seven Hills where you can find art pieces of this fascinating civilisation.
Ancient Egypt, for its antiquity, artistic originality and quality, arouses much interest and admiration around the world.
The attraction to this so ancient society is mostly focused on the impact of its architecture on the art and artefacts created on the basis of religion and the belief in life after death.
Its artistic production that went on for around three thousand years of the history of Egypt of the pharaohs, an absolutely unequalled and fascinating period, continues to inspire and surprise our contemporary world. Truth be told, when people are asked what their dream destination is, Egypt is most certainly a common answer.
But in case you can’t go on this journey, or while you’re setting things to accomplish this dream, you can see the Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon.
The Fascination for Ancient Egypt
The practice of collecting Egyptian antiquities goes all the way back to the Roman empire. With the muslim expansion from the 7th century, Egypt was drawn back from Europe, falling into oblivion.
In the 16th century, during the Renaissance, Egypt was re-discovered when Egyptian pieces were found in Italy. But it was only in 1798 with Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt that this fascination truly boomed.
From then on and during the whole 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, curious travellers and treasure hunters competed against archaeologists and egyptologists to obtain artefacts.
This unbridled race and the lack of knowledge caused irreversible damage to the patrimony that had long been abandoned and ignored. However, they also allowed that this lost civilisation was revealed and comprehended.
The Occident was thus filled with Egyptian antiquities, from the smallest amulets to the most wanted sarcophagi with mummies. But also with big sculpture pieces such as sphinxes, big pharaoh statues and even architecture pieces like obelisks and small tombs that were moved from their places of origin.
All types of artefacts were spread across the world, enriching private collections, as well as collections from museums of the main cities of Europe and the USA.
Fortunately, times have changed and the awareness of the appreciation and preservation of the Ancient Egypt patrimony is ensured by the Egyptian government. Evidence of this fantastic civilisation is still everywhere, from north to south of the country and there’s still much to be discovered.
Egyptian Collections in Portugal
As we’ve seen, there are art pieces spread across countless museums of several countries. Portugal isn’t an exception.
Belonging to museums or private collectors, there are more than one thousand evocative artefacts from Ancient Egypt. These pieces have been studied and published in a project that Instituto Oriental from the School of Arts and Humanities of the University of Lisbon has been carrying out since the early 1990s.
We can find Egyptian artefacts in many museums all over the country, such as:
The Archaeology and Prehistory Museum of the Science Faculty of the University of Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia where there are more than a hundred pieces; the Soares dos Reis National Museum, in Porto; the Solar dos Condes de Resende in Canelas; the Museum of Caramulo; the Palace-Museum of Vila Viçosa; the Condes Castro Guimarães Museum, in Cascais; the Nogueira da Silva Museum, in Braga; and the Museum of Aveiro.
But the biggest agglomeration is in the capital with around 800 of the 1000 existing pieces in our national territory.
We’ll share with you the places where you can admire the witnesses of this peculiar civilisation: a diversity of collections with different characteristics that we suggest you get to know in our article of Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon.
Exploring the Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon
National Museum of Archaeology
We start with the collection of Egyptian antiquities of the National Museum of Archaeology, the biggest collection that has gathered pieces throughout the 20th century.
Leite de Vasconcelos, founder of the museum in 1893, brought from Egypt around 70 pieces in 1909. To this collection were added the 200 pieces brought by queen Amélia after her trip to Egypt in 1903 that were passed on to the government with the Implementation of the Republic in 1910. The remaining artefacts were donated by private collectors.
From a total of 584 objects, the origin of 80 is still unknown.
There are 309 permanently exhibited pieces that cover more than five thousand years of this civilisation: more than two thousand of the Prehistory (c.6000 – 3000 BC) and around three thousand years of the History (c. 3000 BC – 642 AD).
Here we can find from the most rudimentary prehistoric artefacts to objects of quality that reflect the most notable periods of the Egyptian civilisation. Revelations about the quotidian, manifestations of art and religiosity are evident in an exhibition that you mustn’t miss.
The Egyptian room has been open since 1993 in the National Museum of Archaeology that takes up part of Jerónimos Monastery in Belém in the west zone of Lisbon.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
The Egyptian collection of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum – Founder’s Collection, with substantially less art pieces than the previous one (40 on exhibition and 9 stored) but with an impeccable quality, reflects the taste and knowledge of its collector.
You won’t find sarcophagi with mummies, nor objects from the prehistoric or coptic period here like in the other museums. However, this collection that was meticulously selected and gathered between 1907 and 1929 for its quality and representativeness, allows different levels of iconographic and ideological interpretation.
Calouste Gulbenkian was so passionate about the Egyptian civilisation that there are even famous photos of him next to the great Sphinx of Giza and to the statue of the god Horus in the temple of Edfu. The latter one was wisely used by the sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975) that produced the sculptural set that is in the gardens of the Gulbenkian Foundation, that was inaugurated in 1965 and that is in the cover of our article Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon.
This magnificent collection has been on display since 1969 in this unmissable museum, a must-see spot for those who visit our city.
The catalogues of the Egyptian collections of the National Museum of Archaeology and of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum deserve to be highlighted. Here you’ll find the images and detailed description of each of the pieces, as well as the texts of their inscriptions. This was a project rigorously elaborated by the Portuguese egyptologist Luís Manuel de Araújo. These publications are available in several languages and can be found at the shops of these institutions.
The Pharmacy Museum owns 100 objects from Ancient Egypt and 95 of these are on exhibition.
This museum gathers an interesting set of pieces of pedagogical character. Among them an anthropomorphic sarcophagus, profusely decorated that has become one of the main attractions of the museum. It was acquired in an auction and has been on display since 2002.
This is the best preserved of the 10 Egyptian sarcophagi found in Portugal.
The practice of mummification as well as the sarcophagi aimed at the conservation of the body and the perpetuation of the person’s image after his or her physical death. They are therefore directly related to physical and spiritual health.
Statuettes, amulets and pots for ointments or viscera are other intriguing things you’ll find in this peculiar museum.
Carmo Archaeological Museum
Just like the previous one, the Carmo Archaeological Museum is located near Chiado.
Here we’re surprised by the presence of a sarcophagus and its mummy that are unfortunately very deteriorated and whose origin is unknown.
Studies show that these pieces are from the end of the Late Period or from the early Ptolemaic period, that is from between the 6th and 2nd century BC.
This museum deserves a visit for different reasons, but the existence of this sarcophagus is an unusual and unexpected curio.
We have thus explored the Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon. These are the collections that you can easily visit. However, we can’t miss the chance to mention two curious facts…
Curious facts:The Lion of the National Museum of Ancient Art
The National Museum of Ancient Art only owns one piece from Ancient Egypt. This artefact is a lying lion that was sculpted in basalt and has no inscription on it. However, its type of polishing tells us that it is from the end of the Late Period or from the early Ptolemaic period.This magnificent piece was gifted by the collector Calouste Gulbenkian but isn’t always on display, hence why we haven’t included this museum in our itinerary.
The Egyptian Collection of the Museum of the Lisbon Geographical Society
The Museum of the Lisbon Geographical Society, located in Rua das Portas de Sto Antão in the zone of Baixa/Liberdade owns a collection of Egyptian antiquities too.
It is constituted by around 97 pieces from which we highlight 5 anthropomorphic sarcophagi and 88 funerary figurines (ushabtis). The majority of them were gifted to this institution by the Museum of Giza (current Egyptian Museum of Antiquities) in 1893.
Unfortunately this collection isn’t open to the public. We hope that soon this becomes another one of the places that we can include in this itinerary of Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon.