Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

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Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
FCG Calouste Gulbenkian Logo.jpg
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (Main Entrance).jpg
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is located in Lisbon
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Location within Lisbon
Established1957 (1957)
LocationLisbon, Portugal
Coordinates38°44′12″N 9°9′15″W / 38.73667°N 9.15417°W / 38.73667; -9.15417Coordinates: 38°44′12″N 9°9′15″W / 38.73667°N 9.15417°W / 38.73667; -9.15417
FounderCalouste Gulbenkian Foundation
DirectorAntónio Filipe Pimentel
WebsiteOfficial site

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum houses one of the world's most important private art collections. It includes works from Ancient Egypt to the early 20th century, spanning the arts of the Islamic World, China and Japan, as well as the French decorative arts, Impressionist painting and the jewelry of René Lalique.

Rooms & layout[edit]

The permanent exhibition and galleries are distributed chronologically and in geographical order to create two independent circuits within the overall tour.

The first circuit highlights Greco-Roman art from classical antiquity, as well as art from the ancient Near East and the Nile Valley. Among the artworks are ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian,[1] and Armenian pieces, as well as Persian art from the Islamic period.

The second circuit includes European art, with sections dedicated to the art of the book, sculpture, painting and the decorative arts, particularly 18th century French art and the work of René Lalique. In this circuit, a wide-ranging number of pieces reflect various European artistic trends from the beginning of the 11th century to the mid-20th century. The section begins with works in ivory and illuminated manuscript books, followed by a selection of 15th, 16th and 17th century sculptures and paintings. Renaissance art produced in the Netherlands, Flanders, France and Italy is on display in the next room.

French 18th century decorative art has a special place in the museum, with outstanding gold and silver objects and furniture, as well as paintings and sculptures. This section is followed by galleries exhibiting a large group of paintings by the Venetian Francesco Guardi, 18th and 19th century English paintings, and finally a superb collection of jewels and glass by René Lalique, displayed in its own room.

The collection[edit]

The museum is home to the private collection of Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) who amassed during the early 20th century, one of the world's most important private art collections.

Consisting of over six thousand works, of which around 1000 are on permanent display, this eclectic collection reflects Gulbenkian's personal taste.

Head of King Senusret III

Ancient Egypt[edit]

Although not particularly large (there are 54 pieces in total), the group of Ancient Egyptian works assembled by Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian cover art in Egypt from the Old Kingdom (around 2700 BC) to the Greco Roman period (1st century AD) (except for the Amarna period).  

Of particular relevance are two portraits: The Head of King Senusret III, dating from the Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty (c. 1860 BC), which reproduces with striking realism a portrait of a king in his prime, and the head of an official, dating from the middle of the Ptolemaic dynasty (c. 200 BC) during the Greco-Roman period.  

The collection also holds a Solar Barque of Djedhor, shaped in the form of the very first boats used on the Nile, this work was used as a processional insignia. A rare cat sarcophagus on which a cat with kittens is lying down to feed one of her kittens can also be found in the collection. Of note is a Torso of the Goddess Venus Anadyomene, who is portrayed emerging from the water dating from the period of the Roman occupation of Egypt (30 BC – AD 300).

Some of the objects in the collection were acquired through an intermediary and adviser, the well-known British Egyptologist Howard Carter. The original provenance of most of the works acquired is unknown, however 16 objects came from the collection of Reverend William MacGregor.[2]

Greece, Rome and Mesopatamia[edit]

Calouste Gulbenkian’s collection of Greek coins, a small part of which is on show in the museum, represents one of the most important ever assembled in private hands.

With Stanley Robinson’s assistance, Calouste Gulbenkian acquired most of the famous Jameson Collection, a total of 300 coins of exceptional quality.

Moneta di rodi, 350-330 ac

He also managed to collect 11 of the 20 Roman medallions from a hoard discovered in 1902 in Egypt, known as Aboukir Medallions, after the name of the place where they were found. These are the only gold medallions of their kind to survive from the Roman period. Bearing Greek legends, they tell the story of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).

Another highlight in the collection is the famous Greek vase (calyx-krater) from about 440 BC, found at Agrigento and assigned to the Coghill Painter, after the name of its first owner, Sir John Coghill. Calouste Gulbenkian purchased this artwork from the Hope Collection auction sale in 1917 at Christie's. Used for mixing water and wine, it depicts the Rape of Leucippidae the upper register.The lower register has always been said to represent a Bacchic scene, with satyrs and maenads. Both scenes are full of pathos and movement.

Of the few objects of Mesopotamian art collected by Calouste Gulbenkian the most representative, on show in the museum, is no doubt the huge Assyrian relief, made for King Ashurnasirpal II’s (883-859 BC) Northwest Palace in the ancient city of Kalhu (modern Nimrud). It most likely depicts an apkallu (winged genius).[2]

Islamic East (12th-18th century)[edit]

The museum’s Islamic Art collection brings together a group of pieces from different periods – mostly ranging from the 12th/13th to the 17th centuries – stemming from various geographical origins: ancient Persia, Central Asia, Syria, Egypt and, above all, Turkey.

One of the Mina’i bowls, acquired by the collector in Paris in 1912, was produced between the late 12th and early 13th centuries and is decorated with scenes from the life of the Persian court, a type of decoration common to these kinds of highly delicate pieces, produced for the illustrious, wealthy elite.

The collection also holds a prayer niche or mihrab piece depicting a hanging lamp – a symbol of the divine illumination of Islam and a clear reference to the “Verse of Light”, The work, created using the metallic lustre or lustre technique, was made in Kashan (between the 13th and 14th centuries), one of the leading centers of artistic production in Persia, known for its quality and variety and the technical sophistication.

From the Ottoman period the museum contains a tile tympanum panel, one of two in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection and one of around 12 that appeared on the oriental antiquities market in the late 19th and early 20th centuries now dispersed among various European museums. The pieces were thought to have come from the mosque built by the architect Sinan for Piyale Pasha, head of the army and protégé of Sultan Selim II, which was damaged by an earthquake, most probably in 1776.

The museum collection also has a notable collection of illuminated manuscripts, showing the collector’s high regard for the art of the book. The books employ elaborate vegetal geometric patterns and religious, symbolic or courtly figurations reserved for epic manuscripts including the Gulistan, the Shanameh (Book of Kings) and anthologies including Iskandar (Alexander), produced in Shiraz (1410-1411) during the Timurid period.

The collection also holds a small collection of Mamuluk glass mosque lamps, produced in Syria or Egypt during the 14th century. It constitutes one of the most important and well preserved collections of Mamluk glass held by a western museum. All the lamps contain an inscription dedicated to their owner, of which one is dedicated to Sultan Amir Mahmud Ibn Shirwin showing his blazon - a fleur-de-lis and the "Verse of Light" (Koran 35:24) engraved on the neck. This work was acquired from Philip Sasson through an intermediary, Joseph Duveen, in London in 1919 having once belonged to Baron Rotschild's collection.

A unique piece in the collection is the white jade tankard – mashraba – that once belonged to Ulugh Beg the only one of its kind to have been produced in this material. Its form reproduces a type of bronze vessel common in Khorasan. This jug would have been part of a set of 12 pieces, and was produced between 1417, the year in which Ulugh Beg became Gurgan (or governor), and 1449, the year of his death. With a handle in the form of a Chinese-style dragon, added later, the jug has three inscriptions in different places: one, commissioned by Ulugh Beg, is on the neck in relief, featuring Arab thuluth script; the second is on the rim of the jug, engraved in ta’liq script and dated 1613, featuring the name of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, who acquired the jug; and the third, beneath the handle, was added by Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan, who inherited it from his father. The Mughal emperors – and Shah Jahan in particular – laid claim to their Timurid heritage, seeking to justify their dynastic ambitions through their forebears.[3]


Calouste Gulbenkian's collection of Islamic textiles includes examples from the 16th to the 18th centuries from the three great empires that ruled the Islamic world during this period: the Ottomans in Turkey; the Safavids in Persia and the Mughals in India.Within this collection there are two distinct core sections: fabrics and carpets. In terms of the fabrics, the collector was mostly interested in production from Ottoman Turkey, probably due to the aesthetic quality of the patterns and their excelent state of conservation. Gulbenkian's collection of carpets consists of 85 examples, acquired between 1907 and 1939, of which 12 are displayed. The collector's preference in this area was for carpets from Safavid Persia and Mughal India. The carpets on display in the museum are from the so-called classical period (16th - 17th centuries).[4]


The museum contains a small collection of Armenian art, Calouste Gulbenkian was himself a Christian Armenian, thereby explaining the origins of this collection. These included an 18th century ceramic bowl decorated with a six-pointed star surrounded by what appear to be swimming fish, a symbology reflective of early Christianity; a gilded silver thurible from the 19th century; and a series of 17th century manuscripts, including three evangelistaries with exquisite miniatures. Particularly noteworthy in this collection is a Bible from the early 17th century, richly illuminated in the style of medieval Christian manuscripts, featuring 609 pages and 30 miniatures. It was commissioned by Khodja Nazar, a wealthy Armenian from the Persian community of New Julfa in Constantinople, and completed in 1623. The main colophon makes reference to the place, the scribe Hakob, and Nazar.[5]

China and Japan (14th - 19th centuries)[edit]

The collection of pieces from the Far East, consisting primarily of porcelain and hard stone pieces from China and lacquer-ware and prints from Japan, exemplify the taste for the exotic and the eclectic that characterized collecting in the late 19th and 20th centuries, which Gulbenkian fully embraced.

The collection holds Chinese ceramics featuring famille vert, famille rose and famille noir pieces, include a group of ceramics produced in the mid 18th century, purchased in 1875 by Lord Overstone. Later they formed part of the collections of Lady Wantage, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres and the Escolani Palace. The collection also include the most traditional blue and white porcelain, celadon and notable Qingbai ceramic bowl from the Yuan Dynasty.

Japanese art is represented in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection by prints and lacquerware from the 18th and 19th centuries. Objects of Japanese origin found in the collection are inro, small lacquer boxes that had fallen out of use in Japan, and the delicate woodblock prints - which are mostly engravings in fact - including a vast body of work by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806). One of these inro, containing four cases, was previously part of Sir Trevor Lawrenece's Collection, having been acquired in Christie's in London, in December 1916.[6]

Europe (12th-16th centuries)[edit]

Illuminated manuscripts[edit]

Gulbenkian's liking for illuminations and calligraphy awoke in him a desire to acquire 24 manuscript books, an incunabulum and 11 loose folios, produced between the 12th and 16th centuries in England, Holland, Flanders, Italy and France, with the largest group from France. It includes biblical, liturgical and devotional books, notably books of hours, but also literary and legal works acquired between two world wars, particularly in the London and Paris book markets. Factors that contributed to Gulbenkian's prudent acquisitions included provenances attesting to the quality of the specimens (collections of Henry Yates Thompson, Chester Beatty, Poullier Ketele and Lord Elderham), eminent advisors and intermediaries (Erwin Rosenthal, León Gruel, Henri Leclerc, K. Gudénian, Devgantz) from who he sought advice and to whom he expressed his doubts or gave very specific instructions when conducting acquisitions, and the artistic quality of the works and their state of conservation.[7]

The collector[edit]

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955), of Armenian origin, was born under the Ottoman Empire, in Üsküdar, Constantinople (now Istanbul). In 1896, he decided to leave Turkey. After a brief stint in Cairo, Gulbenkian established himself in London. He later bought the house at 51, Avenue d’Iéna, in Paris, where he installed his art collection. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he settled in Lisbon, where he would stay until his death.[8]

He is thought to have started his collection at the age of fourteen, when he bought some ancient Greek coins at the bazaar in Istanbul. He continued to acquire artworks, uninterruptedly, between the late 19th century and 1953. Gulbenkian sought the advice of the great experts of the day and established privileged relationships with important antiquarians and auctioneers, always guided by the artistic quality of the objects, their state of conservation, the certainty of their provenance and his own personal taste. Between 1928 and 1930, he began negotiations with the Soviet government for the acquisition of a valuable group of pieces from the Hermitage Museum, including seminal works by painters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, the famous Diana sculpture by Houdon, and silverwork by François-Thomas Germain, among many other great masters.[9]

The collection grew over the years, with the inclusion of significant works of great artistic quality from different cultures and geographies, which allowed him to build a highly diverse collection, unique in the world. In 1956, as expressed in Gulbenkian’s last will and testament, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation was created. The artworks acquired by the Collector during his lifetime and bequeathed to the Foundation, in accordance with his wishes, were to be brought together under the same roof. In 1969 they were installed in the Museum bearing his name.[8]

The building[edit]


The museum was designed as a showcase for the collection, which was relatively unique for an art museum at a time when most museums were housed in buildings originally built for other purposes.[10] The landscaping and museum building interact, with views into woods and wetlands punctuating the artwork on display, while woodland paths offer views of the dramatic building, the edges of which include terraces and water features that blur the border between built and natural environment. The grouped buildings are set within a park bordered by the Avenida de Berna (north), Avenida António Augusto de Aguiar (west), Rua Marquês de Sá da Bandeira (east) and the Centro de Arte Moderna (south).[11]

The shape of the museum and headquarters is relatively simple, with wings "T"-shaped wings, each with an entrance.[12] The massive volume, long and horizontal was used for administration, services and as auditoriums, off of the main, single entry space.[12] It is in this entrance that the panel Começar, by Almada Negreiros is situated.[12]


The Calosute Gulbenkian Foundation purchased from Vasco Maria Eugénio de Almeida part of the Parque de Santa Gertrudes, in April 1957, for the construction of the Foundation buildings and public/private park. Two years later, a competition was launched for a project to construct the organization's headquarters.[11] It was won by a team that included architects Alberto J. Pessoa, Pedro Cid and Ruy Jervis d'Athouguia (1917-2006), along with landscaping architects António Viana Barreto and Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, who were responsible for designing the park surrounding the building.[11][12] Later, Francisco Caetano Keil do Amaral was added to the team, as a consultant, and Frederico Henrique George joined the team working on the building.[11][12]

In December 1961, the anterior project of the park was begun, while work on the earthworks and retaining walls beginning the following year.[11] A sculpture panel was installed in the headquarters building by architect Artur Rosa in 1962.[11] By 1967, the interior finishing were adjudicated, with the project concluded in 1968. On 2 October 1969, the buildings and gardens were inaugurated.[11]

The 12th International Federation of Landscaping Architects Congress was held in September 1970 on the grounds of the Gulbenkian Foundation. In 1975, the property was distinguished with the Valmor Prize.[11][12]

In 1983, the Modern Art Centre was constructed following the project of architect John Leslie Martin, while in 1985, a children's pavilion was constructed under the guidance of architect John Leslie Martin and Yvor Richards.[11]

On 22 April 2002, the Vice-President of the IPPAR issued a dispatch to begin the administrative process for the eventual classification of the parque, main building, Modern Art Centre and gardens as national heritage.[11] Work on remodeling the park began in 2003, following the plan established by Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles.[11] On 7 June 2006, there was a dispatch by the Minister of Culture supporting the classification of the buildings. On 23 September 2008, the work on improving the interior air quality and energy conservation resulted in the building being classified as a Edifício Saudável (Healthy Building).[11]



  1. ^ Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (1972)
  2. ^ a b Figueiredo, Maria Rosa; Museu Calouste Gulbenkian (2020). Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisboa. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-989-8758-76-7. OCLC 1313509687.
  3. ^ Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Ana Barata, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Lisboa. 2020. pp. 56–58. ISBN 978-989-8758-76-7. OCLC 1313509687.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Serra, Clara (2020). Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Ana Barata, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Lisboa. pp. 74–75. ISBN 978-989-8758-76-7. OCLC 1313509687.
  5. ^ Rodrigues, Jorge (2020). Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Ana Barata, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. Lisboa. p. 84. ISBN 978-989-8758-76-7. OCLC 1313509687.
  6. ^ Rodrigues, Jorge (2020). Museu Calouste Gulbenkian /. Lisboa: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. pp. 88–89. ISBN 978-989-8758-75-0. OCLC 1201191325.
  7. ^ Dias, João Carvalho (2020). Museu Calouste Gulbenkian /. Lisboa: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. pp. 100–1. ISBN 978-989-8758-75-0. OCLC 1201191325.
  8. ^ a b Pollack, Rhoda-Gale (1988). George S. Kaufman. Boston: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 0-8057-7508-0. OCLC 16129883.
  9. ^ Chilvers, Ian (2004). The Oxford dictionary of art (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860476-9. OCLC 54079699.
  10. ^ "One Man's Treasures". New York Times. 19 February 1984. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Bandeira, Filomena (1998), SIPA (ed.), Sede e Museu da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian / Centro de Arte Moderna (IPA.00007810/PT031106230480) (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA – Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico, retrieved 16 February 2016
  12. ^ a b c d e f IGESPAR, ed. (2010), Edifício-Sede e Parque da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: IGESPAR - Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico, retrieved 16 February 2016


  • Correia, Graça (2013), Ruy D'Athouguia (in Portuguese), Aveleda, Portugal: Verso da História
  • Guia de Arquitectura (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal, 1994
  • Leite, Ana Cristina (1988), Arquitectura Premiada em Lisboa. Prémio Valmor - Prémio Municipal de Arquitectura (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa
  • Pedreirinho, José Manuel (1994), Dicionário de arquitectos activos em Portugal do Séc. I à actualidade (in Portuguese), Porto, Portugal: Edições Afrontamento
  • PDM - Plano Director Municipal (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, 1995
  • Relatório da Actividade do Ministério no Ano de 1961 (in Portuguese), vol. 2, Lisbon, Portugal: Ministério das Obras Públicas, 1962
  • Sede da Fundação Gulbenkian declarada Edifício Saudável (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 2008
  • Tostões, Ana (1997), Os Verdes Anos na Arquitectura Portuguesa dos Anos 50 (in Portuguese), Porto, Portugal: Faculdade de Arquitetura da Universidade do Porto
  • Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, ed. (1972), Persian Art: Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon, Portugal: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

See also[edit]

External links[edit]