Recreating Renaissance Lisbon
An exhibition at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga aims to reconstitute the heart of Lisbon during the Renaissance.
‘The paintings have remained at Kelmscott Manor since the 19th century’
HE HISTORY of this exhibition begins in April of 1866, when the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), left his home in Chelsea, London, to evaluate a painting he had seen in a small antique shop. ‘A large landscape with about 120 figures of the school of Velasquez, [but] not, [I think], by the great V himself’, wrote the painter. The British art world had awakened to Spanish painting and collectors were on the lookout for works by great masters such as El Greco, Velázquez and Goya. Despite not recognising the city represented in the painting, Rossetti correctly guessed at its Iberian origin.
An impetuous and eclectic collector, Rossetti divided the canvas into two, probably because it did not fit on the already overcrowded walls of his London home. It is known that Rossetti took these two canvases with him, along with other works of art, when he went to live at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire with the painter William Morris. It is also known that the two paintings remained in Kelmscott Manor when Rossetti was forced to leave the house suddenly after a problematic love affair. They were later included in William Morris’ assets.
The paintings (currently owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London) have remained at Kelmscott Manor since the 19th century but the represented city was only identified in 2009, by Annemarie Jordan Gschwend and Kate Lowe. The first clue that led to its identification was the number of black people portrayed; in 16th-century Europe, only Lisbon and a couple of Spanish cities had such a large percentage of Africans. The architectural details such as the tall narrow houses, the covered gallery with marble columns – 149 in total – and the iron railings led Lowe and Jordan to conclude that it was Lisbon. And, more specifically, Rua Nova dos Mercadores, Lisbon’s main trade street in the 16th century, full of merchants, acrobats, musicians, travelling salesmen, knights, jewels, silks, spices, exotic animals and other wonders imported from Africa, Brazil and Asia.
This exhibition aims to reconstitute the heart of Lisbon during the Renaissance with 249 pieces belonging to 77 lenders: 64 national (institutions and private collections) and 13 international (two private collections and 11 institutions, among them the British Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum, Museo Nacional del Prado, Leiden University Libraries and Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico ‘Luigi Pigorini’).
On display for the first time in Portugal, the two paintings representing Rua Nova dos Mercadores open the first of the exhibition’s six sections: Lisbon City Views: historical background, Novelties, From Africa, Shopping in Rua Nova, Animals from other worlds and Simão de Melo’s house.
Of note within this surprising set of never before assembled pieces are the extraordinary and meticulous Panoramic View of Lisbon, c. 1570-1580 (Leiden University Library), the Reliquary Casket containing the relics of Saint Vincent (Patriarchal Cathedral - Treasure, Lisbon), the View of Lisbon waterfront with the royal palace, the Paço da Ribeira, 1505 (Câmara Municipal de Cascais/ Condes de Castro de Guimarães Museum), the Euclidis Megarensis Philosophi atque Mathematici [...], mathematical works by Francisco de Melo, 1521 (Stadtarchiv der Hansestadt Stralsund), Terrestrial Paradise by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (Museo del Prado), Processional Cross belonging to Catherine of Bragança containing the relics of Saint Thomas Becket (Vila Viçosa Ducal Palace) and the 1579 cameo, by Jacopo da Trezzo, representing King Manuel I’s rhinoceros (Guy Ladrière Collection).
The exhibition, The Global City: Lisbon in the Renaissance, runs at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga until 9 April.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Rua das Janelas Verdes
Tel.: +351 213 912 800