Ornate armchairs. Exquisite jewellery. Even ancient Egyptian funerary masks – there’s plenty to see at the Gulbenkian
When you’ve had your fill of custard tarts and put the finishing touches to your tan, what better way to spend an afternoon than soaking up some of Lisbon’s artistic attractions? The collection of oil magnate and art collector Calouste Gulbenkian spans centuries, cultures, nations and artistic mediums and is, shall we say, comprehensive, totalling over 6,000 pieces in all. About a sixth of the collection is currently on display in the Gulbenkian’s permanent exhibition, but as that’s still over 1,000 pieces, we’ve selected some of our favourites to search out on your next visit. From Ruben’s famous portrait of Helena Fourment to ornamental jewellery by René Lalique and even an ancient Egyptian funerary mask, here are our top 10 things to see at Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.
The only work by Peter Paul Rubens on display at the Gulbenkian, the striking Portrait of Helena Fourment depicts the artist’s second wife. Said to be one of Calouste Gulbenkian’s favourite pieces, this is definitely one to add to the itinerary.
The museum has an entire collection devoted to the beautiful work of René Lalique, but his “Dragonfly” brooch has to be one of his most eye-catching creations. Presented at the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition, the brooch is a sparkling hybridisation of woman and insect, made of gold, enamel, moonstones and diamonds.
Discovered in Aboukir in Egypt in 1902, no one knows what this “medallion”, and the other 20 found alongside it, were used for, but it’s thought that the iconography dates back to one of the immediate successors of Alexander the Great. This medallion shows the head of Alexander on one side, with a hunting scene on the reverse.
Turner’s chaotic and tumultuous seascape (c.1810) is indicative of the artist’s power with a paintbrush. A naturalistic scene, The Wreck of a Transport Ship shows a boat being battered and broken apart by fierce waves, as another attempting rescue also fights to stay afloat.
Also known as “The Hours of Lamoignon” (after one of the book’s previous owners), this ornate prayer book was created in Paris between 1420 and 1430, by one of the most revered illuminators in the city. The eponymous Isabel of Brittany was the granddaughter of King Charles VI of France and is depicted in several of the miniatures.
Purchased from the Hermitage Museum in 1930, Jean-Antoine Houdon’s marble statue of Diana was scandalous (and therefore, predictably popular) at the time of its creation, largely due to its unconventional nude depiction of the virginal Roman goddess of the hunt. “Smut” aside, Diana is one of the Gulbenkian’s prize possessions, and should feature on any museum excursion.
Not your average rug, this luxurious 16th century Persian silk carpet shows figures from mythology and earth-bound animals in fierce combat. Displaying just how broad the collection really is, this carpet ranks among our top pieces to see at the Gulbenkian.
Although the name of the deceased has long since been lost, his idealised face remains, immortalised in gilded silver. Dating back to the 30th dynasty (that’s 664-525 BC), Mr Gulbenkian picked up this Egyptian funerary mask at Sotheby’s in London in 1928.
Once found in Fontainebleau Palace (in Queen Marie Antoinette’s boudoir, no less), this ornamental armchair was one of a set commissioned from the renowned menuisier, George Jacob. One of the more unusual pieces on display at the Gulbenkian, this exquisite armchair dates from 1785-86.
Coromandel screens may feature on most interior junkie’s wish lists, but this pristine 17th century example is particularly special. An ornate Chinese screen sporting some unusual painted paper panels, these rare decorative paintings depict scenes of celebration and everyday life, as well as allegorical tales.