This morning we visited the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum) at Rua da Madre de Deus 4. The museum is dedicated to the azulejo, a form of Spanish and Portuguese painted tin- or polychrome-glazed ceramic tiles.
Lisboa, as the world’s tile capital, and having the only museum dedicated to the art of tile painting, holds exceptional masterpieces and enables easy and close access to them, perhaps because of the durability of the materials.
Azulejo are found on the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, homes, schools, restaurants, bars and train stations. They were not only used as an ornamental art form but also had a specific functional capacity like temperature control in homes. Many azulejo chronicle major historical and cultural aspects of Portuguese history.
The museum occupies the former Convento do Madre Deus (Mother of God Convent), founded by Queen Leonor in 1509, itself a building with tile-clad features.
Here is a selection of our photographs of the azulejo on exhibition at the museum:
‘O Casamento da Galinha’ (The Chicken’s Wedding) – this is the most enigmatic tile panel in the museum, and perhaps of all time. Created in 1665, it depicts a chicken in a carriage on its way to a ceremony, which is believed to be its wedding. It’s the only bird in the painting, as all the other characters are monkeys. The panel’s meaning is unknown but it surely has a satirical purpose, with the monkeys used to ridicule the behaviours and basic instincts of human beings, exemplified in one of them shown urinating in public. The chicken may be a maternal figure, perhaps a queen. Poultry have a special place in the hearts and minds of the Portugese, best exemplified by the ‘The Cock of Barcelos’ legend – see later in this blogpost
Painel de Nossa Senhora da Vida (Panel of Our Lady of Life), circa 1580 – one of the first-known tile masterpieces, this is a group of 1498 tiles. Attributed to the artist Marçal de Matos, it once covered the Chapel of Our Lady of Life in the Church of St. Andrew, which stood near the Castelo de São Jorge. It represents the birth of Jesus and uses shading to create a sense of depth.
A ‘repetitive pattern’ tile – in the 17th century, the Catholic Church was the main requester of ‘repetitive pattern’ tiles as a decorative treatment for church interiors. Tiles were arranged into recurring patterns of 2×2, 4×4, 6×6 and 12×12 modules, forming a carpet framed by friezes or borders. Patterns made from the smaller modules were applied to the lower section of walls. The larger compositions were reserved for wall surfaces that were further away from the eye of the viewer. At that time the tiles were mainly polychrome in blue, green and yellow, although sometimes blue-painted tiles on a white background were manufactured
An azulejo representation of an emblematic maritime scene – the obelisk bears a half-moon, suggesting links with the Moorish era
Also in the 17th century, the Catholic Church commissioned tiles containing a representation of saints and narrative religious, symbolic or emblematic scenes. They were usually integrated into walls covered with patterned tiles. A custom of covering altar fronts with tiles instead of fabric began in Spain and extended to Portugal. Lisboa began producing altar frontals with bird and foliage themes inspired by Asian textile forms such as chitas (chintz) or stamped Indian fabrics known as pintados. These tile compositions had symbolic meanings which were associated with the Resurrection, justifying their use on Catholic altars
In Lisboa, drinking fountains within the claustrim (small cloister) of a former convent which is now Museo Nacional do Azulejo, showing a repetitive tile pattern on the surrounding wall
This panel, once part of the Convent of Sant’Ana in Lisbon, depicts Franciscan scenes – the creator was Manuel dos Santos, a prominent member of the ‘Cycle of the Masters’ (1690-1725), a golden era in Portugese azulejo painting
An azulejo representation of the Crucifixion
The Chapel of Saint Anthony with an 18th century Baroque decoration and a significant number of canvases by the painter André Gonçalves
Close-up of a section of the Chapel of Saint Anthony
This painting in the Chapel of Saint Anthony is a tribute to Queen Leonor, known as the ‘Most Perfect Queen’ because of her Christian virtue – as well as founding the Convent of Madre de Deus (now used as the Tile Museum), Leonor established the Misericórdias charitable organisation and contributed to building the Pópulo Hospital (Peoples’ Hospital) in Caldas da Rainha and the Royal Hospital of Todos-os-Santos (All Saints’ Hospital) in Lisboa
Escadaria de São Bento (São Bento staircase), 17th century
The Sala da Caça (Hunting Room) – so-named because of the pursuing or pursued animals represented in the azulejo – panels from a room in the former Palace of Praia in Belém, Lisboa
Detail in a section of the Sala da Caça (Hunting Room)
Azulejo panel devoted to São João Baptista (St John the Baptist), Lisboa circa 1670
Azulejo panels honour a royal queen
Cena marítima e campestre (Maritime and country scene) from the second quarter of the 18th century
Alexandre combatendo os persas (Alexander fighting the Persians), Lisboa circa 1745
An azulejo representation of the Shroud of Turin
Jesus entre os Doutores (Jesus amid the Doctors of the Church) – tile panel from a series of episodes from the life of Jesus, Lisboa circa 1760
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 1 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 2 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 3 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 4 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 5 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 6 of 7
História do Chapeleiro António Joaquim Carneiro (Story of António Joaquim Carneiro, hatter), Lisbon 1790-1800 – this is panel 7 of 7
Part of the ‘Grande Vista de Lisboa’ (Lisboa Panorama) – this tile panel is 23m long, spanning three walls of a room in the museum. It illustrates the city of Lisboa before the destruction caused by the 1755 earthquake. It was created in 1700 and is a masterpiece for being as close as you get to an 18th century panoramic photograph. It was the first work of an artist with an academic background, and shows 14km of waterfront, passing through the Belém, Baixa and Alfama quarters, depicting churches, palaces, convents and houses. It belonged to a palace that stood near the Castelo de São Jorge.
Another section of the panorama …
… and another …
… and another …
… and another …
… and another …
… and now the last section of the panorama
A close-up of the Lisboa panorama
Another close-up of the Lisboa panorama
Joanne and Dominic getting among this azulejo panel
A typical representation of ‘The Cockerel of Barcelos’ – according to the 14th century legend, the people of Barcelos had been shaken by a crime for which a pilgrim was the prime suspect. He was tried and the judge sentenced him to death by hanging. But the pilgrim, insisting on his innocence, and as his last wish, asked to be brought again before the judge, who by then had finished work and was dining. Pointing at the roast cock that was served for the judge to eat, the pilgrim stated “I swear that I am so innocent that, when you hang me, this cock is going to crow”. The judge ignored the appeal but, just as the noose was tightening around the neck of the pilgrim, the cock raised its head off the table and crowed loudly. The judge ordered that the pilgrim be spared and sent on his way. This legend reminds us how the truly innocent are never silenced and forever proclaim their innocence.
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