Saturday 4th June, 2005.
Part B - Today - AM
9.45 am - Sitting outside the Museo de Azulejos - the Museum of hand
painted tiles, a beautiful and historic craft for which Portugal is
famous. We have reached the Museum by taking the 105 bus from the Placa
de Commercias on the sea front in the city, (the part of the city that
was wiped out in the 1755 earthquake), and are now waiting for the
Museum to open at 10.00.
Now we have been allowed in to the inner, shaded, leafy courtyard, to
wait for the Museum to open. There could be worse places for waiting -
the open roof of the courtyard is shaded by bamboo matting, which
filters the light, while a gardener goes around with a spray hose,
washing down all the lush tropical plants that are planted around the
margin of the courtyard.
Banana trees, Figs, ferns, bougainvillaea, palm trees, Hydrangeas,
strelitzias, Monstera, Lantana. All the plants that grow so delicately
at home, that have to be cosseted and tended as little houseplants, are
here leaping and scrambling over each other as they climb tens of feet
high up to the light and warmth. This museum is sited in the old convent
of Madre de Dios, so the sound of the pigeons coo-ing is also
particularly soothing and appropriate, while we wait under the
sunshades, with the cooling water mist around us.
The Museum is open. To avoid the crush of visitors which always seem to
surge in to a place like this on opening, Alec and I have made our way
to the convent Church, rather than to the series of rooms containing the
I keep on running out of superlatives to describe the places that we are
visiting, but entering the lower part of the church and looking up the
steps into the choir of the church, the enormous, glittering, gilded
reredos behind the figure of the Virgin is one of my "take my breath
away" moments - the first glimpse really did make me gasp. The sense of
theatre in these churches, with the entry at a lo point, and steps
leading ones view upwards, heavenwards, to the focal point of the High
Altar, is superb - but again I am struck by the immensity of riches
concentrated in one place.
In the Chapter room, which looks down into the nave, there are no less
than 24 separate reliquaries, each holding one or more relics, and each
gilded and decorated again with magnificence. Is this what our own
English churches and cathedrals were like before the Reformation, the
Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, and later, the iconoclasm
of the English Civil War?
Set in rooms around the cloister rose garden, Our tour around the museum was fascinating.
I have a passion for blue
and white ceramics in any form, so the abundance of hand painted blue
and white tiles here has been a joy. But there have also been exhibits
showing how tiles have been created - some of the most interesting are
the Moorish tiles, with examples showing both how intricate tile
patterns were made using interlocking cut tile shapes, and also embossed
and relief tiles, and tiles with animal shapes outlined in raised clay
which would then have infills in coloured glazes to create the patterns.
(Blog readers - Its much more difficult to explain than to see - you
will just have to visit the Museo if you are fascinated by this topic!)
We've just had a light lunch of Salmon, pate, olives and Portuguese
Pudim in the Museum restaurant, surrounded by more beautifully
handpainted tiled kitchen scenes all around us, and now we are off to
catch the bus back to Lisbon and then the Metro to the Gulbenkian Museum
in the north of the City.
Just a few more examples of the beautiful and the bizarre illustrations on some of the tiles. On the first, a surprised, rather than delighted cat has just caught a very fraught mouse.
One of the more traditional styles of decorative tile patterns is shown in the lovely vine leaf set, and finally, a very humorous depiction of a 17th century medic about to administer a fearsome injection into the gluteus maximus of a young man - or, horrors... is it something even worse?!!! - Definitely NOT for the sensitive of disposition!