Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon

Arte do Antigo Egipto nos Museus de Lisboa. Pormenor do monumento de homenagem a Calouste Gulbenkian da autoria do escultor Leopoldo de Almeida, 1965
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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.

Get to know Lisbon’s historic neighbourhoods in a guided tour and discover unmissable places of this magnificent city.

The Fascination for Ancient Egypt

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, oil painting, c 1868, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, oil painting, c 1868, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

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

Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon: National Museum of Archaeology, in Belém
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

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum - Founder’s Collection
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 14 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 (out of stock) and of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (available in several languages in the museum shop) deserve to be highlighted. In the catalogues 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.

Pharmacy Museum

Pharmacy Museum, near Santa Catarina Viewpoint
Pharmacy Museum

The Pharmacy Museum owns more than 100 objects from Ancient Egypt that are distributed between the museums of Lisbon and Porto.

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

Recently renovated façade of the former Carmo Convent, where you can find the Carmo Archaeological 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.

Medeiros e Almeida House-Museum

Ancient Egyptian Art in the Museums of Lisbon: Medeiros e Almeida House-Museum
Casa-Museu Medeiros e Almeida

The Medeiros e Almeida House-Museum keeps in its magnificent and eclectic collection, three ushabtis, funerary figurines in faience dating between 380 and 343 BC.

This discreet institution offers us unique collections that are important to know and disseminate: watches, fans, jewelery, furniture, ceramics… Visit and discover a world that will surprise you!



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 owns 12 pieces from Ancient Egypt. We highlight an artefact gifted by the collector Calouste Gulbenkian: it 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 exemplar as well as the other aren’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 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.

The project getLISBON has been very rewarding and we want to continue revealing the singularities of fascinating Lisbon.

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The Milk Station Museum in Lisbon

Museu do Lactário, um núcleo museológico de elevado interesse sociológico e patrimonial, cujo espólio é raro, não só no país mas também a nível europeu.
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Since February 27, 2019 that Lisbon has one more museum of great sociological and patrimonial interest, the Milk Station Museum, whose collection is not only rare in Portugal, but also in Europe.

In Santa Apolónia, it is located in the old facilities of the first milk station of the country, destined to help needy mothers and children in the zone of Alfama.

After it was established, three others followed in Lisbon. In total, around 16.000 children were nursed.

Today we’re telling you this story and inviting you to get to know this curious museum and the project that originated it.

The Harsh Social Reality

Nursery practice room. In addition to the service provided in the facilities, the association had volunteer assistant protectors, who visited the homes everyday, giving support and hygiene and maternal care advice.
Nursery practice room

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, both the infant mortality and illiteracy rates were incredibly high. This misery, that arose during the secular monarchy, remained throughout the short and troubled period of the 1st Republic and the long dictatorship of the Estado Novo. Only after the revolution of April 1974 was this reality changed.

The differences in the quality of life attained after the revolution can be measured through rates related with education, housing, health, among others. These are present in the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Aljube, another unmissable museum that is worth visiting.

All sorts of problems arose from the housing needs and food shortage of the poorest layers of the population. The sanitary conditions of their habitations were precarious, women didn’t have any sort of prenatal care, and the lack of food didn’t allow them to have milk in order to feed their babies. This led them to many times hand the babies over to wet nurses, who carried fatal contagious diseases, such as syphilis…

There are countless of these cases documented in the Dermatology Collection of the Capuchos Hospital. Times have fortunately changed. Today, these situations, not only outrage us, but also shock us, seeing that it hasn’t been that long since these events.

Aboim Ascensão and the First Milk Station of Lisbon

Association dedicated to supporting early childhood that promoted the free distribution of quality-controlled milk to needy children, as well as paediatric and social care.
Association dedicated to supporting early childhood

The first milk station of Lisbon was created in 1901, at the initiative of colonel Rodrigo António Aboim Ascensão (1859-1930), commander of the Fiscal Guard Cavalry Company situated in the neighbourhood of Alfama.

This patron was sensitised by the premature death of his son of only 8 months and by the deplorable life conditions of the population of Alfama he was confronted with everyday. His creation allowed to in addition to tackling the children’s food shortage, to educate the mothers, thus revolutionising the maternal and infant care. It would never be enough to solve such a complex problem in its core, but it undoubtedly made a difference in the reality of this population.

Didactic material on maternal and infant care
Didactic material on maternal and infant care

It was in the 1900 Paris Exposition that he had contact with the French vanguard when it came to early childhood care. Based on the French gouttes-de-lait (milk drops) model, developed by the paediatrician Léon Dufour (1856-1928), Aboim Ascensão created in Portugal an association dedicated to supporting early childhood that promoted the free distribution of quality-controlled milk to needy children, as well as paediatric and social care.

This way, in buildings projected by the architect Ventura Terra (1866-1919), this ambitious initiative was launched and called lactário, a word that had to be invented in order to name such an innovative activity.

The Pioneer Milk Station

 Medical Service, with a paediatrician who weekly monitored each user and provided neonatal support with a state-of-the-art technology at the time
Medical Service

According to the Milk Station Museum that now occupies this space:

“The service involved these separate areas: 

  • Milk Production, responsible for the production of hygienic milk;
  • Milk Station, which distributed milk on prescription on a daily basis;
  • Medical Service, with a paediatrician who weekly monitored each user and provided neonatal support with a state-of-the-art technology at the time: Alexandre Lion incubators;
  • Social Service, which lent support to the family through the work of the Assistant Protectors; and
  • Administrative Service, responsible for the management of the Association and for communication with the outside world.”

In the next-door autonomous installations operated a dairy that was carefully watched over by a dairyman and a veterinary, who ensured the quality of the milk.

Due to high demand, the milk that was produced here started being distributed across the city in other stations. First, in 1907 near the neighbourhood of Madragoa, in Santos-o-Velho, then in 1927 in Alcântara and finally in 1929, in the east zone of the city, in Beato.

These facilities have disappeared, except for the deactivated facilities of Beato that no longer belong to the milk station. We believe they should be kept for future memory, adapted for another purpose.

Former milk station of Beato: these facilities have disappeared, except for the deactivated facilities of Beato that no longer belong to the milk station
Former milk station of Beato

When it operated, the milk station provided each child with a complete layette made by volunteer women who sewed and embroidered the little clothes, blankets and bedsheets.

Complete layette: the milk station provided each child with a complete layette made by volunteer women who sewed and embroidered the little clothes, blankets and bedsheets.
Complete layette made by volunteer women

In addition to the service provided in the facilities, the association had volunteer assistant protectors, who visited the homes everyday, giving support and hygiene and maternal care advice.

The Milk Station of Lisbon always had the support of the elites and of the most relevant members of the State. Initially the kings and later the presidents contributed to the visibility of the project with their visits and distribution of layettes during Christmas time. This is also featured in the museum’s collection.

The Milk Station Museum

The Milk Station Museum was established by the Aboim Sande Lemos Foundation in order to divulge the history of the pioneering institution that created the first milk station in Portugal.

The museum’s collection is rare not only in Portugal, but also in Europe, seeing that the destruction caused by the dreadful world wars led to the disappearance of the modern equipment of that time that we can see here. These are the cases of the first incubators for premature babies of the beginning of the 20th century that the museum preserves.

Incubators. The museum’s collection is rare not only in Portugal, but also in Europe, seeing that the destruction caused by the dreadful world wars led to the disappearance of the modern equipment of that time that we can see here. These are the cases of the first incubators for premature babies of the beginning of the 20th century that the museum preserves.
Incubators

The collection featured different types of objects – paintings, sculptures, tiles, photographs, technical material, everyday-use objects, furniture, among others – that are organised in two themed areas – one dedicated to the founder and the other divided into nuclei related to the milk station’s activity itself.

Premature baby feeding spoons
Premature baby feeding spoons

All services that were provided are represented here and, this way, we can observe the objects related to the different activities. We can find the layettes, the premature baby feeding spoons, the milk bottles and even the technical equipment used in the production of the high-quality hygienic raw milk, among others.

Set of bottle-holders and bottles

The entire exhibition is available in english and features an appealing short film that describes and illustrates the story of the milk station since its establishment.

Don’t miss this experience!

The visits to the Milk Station Museum are always guided, subject to prior booking, and are available in english!

More information can be found on the Museum’s website.

The project getLISBON has been very rewarding and we want to continue revealing the singularities of fascinating Lisbon.

Help us keep this project alive!

By using these links to make your reservations you’ll be supporting us. With no extra costs!

• Look up the best hotels on Booking.com and get 15% or more off!
• Looking for a different experience? We can create a customised itinerary based on your interests. Contact us!
• Or if you prefer tours and other activities in various destinations, take a look at GetYourGuide.
• Save time and money with a flexible Lisbon Card!
Rent a car with Autoeurope and discover other regions of Portugal