A voyage across the world and the ages at the Museu do Oriente, where you can discover the treasures of Asian cultures and their interaction with the Portuguese throughout the centuries.
By Andrea Duarte
China, Macau, Japan, East Timor and India are all exotic, distant lands evoking spices and silk, but they are also places the Portuguese established a connection with and had an influence on during the course of centuries. The cultural and commercial interaction worked both ways, of course. And Lisbon’s Museu do Oriente (literally, Museum of the Orient, focused on Portugal’s interaction with Asian cultures) reveals this intricate relationship, be it in paintings of Far Eastern bays painted in the Western style, or in Portuguese porcelain which follows Chinese patterns. Apart from the crucial trading routes and links they established between Europe and Asia, Portugal’s voyages to the other end of the world gave rise to a mutually influenced new wave of art and culture, which the collections of the Museu do Oriente attest to.
Portuguese at the end of the world
Upon entering the museum, one of the first things visitors will come across is a collective memory of Portuguese presence in China and Macau. Paintings, porcelain and exquisite folding screens all attest to a history of over 400 years of Portugal‘s colonisation of this important south China port. The permanent exhibition “Portuguese Presence in Asia” also includes a beautiful display of daily-life objects, both from the former Portuguese overseas territory of Goa (in India), as well as Japan and East Timor.
The cotton combs, fabrics and seating furniture from Timor are a fine example of the artistic relationship between the sacred and the mundane. A strong influence on the Portuguese presence in Asia was Christianity. Apart from trade and exploration, one of the main drives behind their quest for exotic lands, which started out in the 14th century, was in fact the aim of spreading the Catholic faith to what they regarded as heathen peoples. Art and art objects became a crucial means to pursue this end, hence the giant crucifixes from India and the beautiful oratories from Japan.
Japan is also the source of the Namban art section, where a folding screen, a pair of stirrups, a helmet, prayer oratories and chests show how such a secluded, withdrawn island opened itself to a country from the other side of the world.
The pantheon of gods
The second permanent exhibition in the museum is “Gods of Asia“, a very unique collection of divinities and artistic creations that travels through Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Shintoism in the lands of Indonesia, Bali, India, Vietnam, China, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Tibet.
The fascinating shrine to Hindu goddess Durga is just one of the many pieces full of life and colour this section of the museum displays. There are also ritual dance masks representing scenes from the Ramayana epic from Indonesia, statues of Burmese Nat spirits in various difficult scenarios, and depictions of the Buddha and protective amulets from Thailand. The collection also includes representations of hell, the sun, the moon, the constellations and the multifunctional and age-old daily pantheon from China, a colourful interpretation of astrology from Tibet, an association of gods with animals that take on symbolic attributes from Vietnam, symbols of procreation, life and fertility from Korea and, finally, domestic Shinto shrines from Japan.
The horse from Timor
The horse from Timor is a fine example of the artistic relationship between the sacred and the mundane. The subject depicted is not a common one among the peoples of the island of Timor, as the ritual representation of the horse is mostly seen in a funerary context. Since they were introduced late in the island, horses are not associated to origin myths in Timor. Their function as a mode of transport ended up being the main subject in Timorese depictions: it is the horse that transports the dead to the ancestors’ land of rest. Circa 1940
Oecussi, East Timor
Shrine to Durga
The fascinating shrine to Durga is just one of the many pieces brimming with life and colour you can see in the Museum, dedicated to an Indian goddess. Durga is the most worshiped shakti (feminine sacred force) in India, especially in the region of West Bengal. For the annual festival devoted to her, big clay statues where the goddess is portrayed with her children riding and killing the buffalo demon are made. These statues are exhibited and, in the last day of the festival, taken in procession to the sacred river Ganges. India, West Bengal
Paintings, porcelain and exquisite folding screens represent a history of over 400 years of Portuguese colonisation of the important south China port of Macau. Theses porcelain pieces were made for exportation and date from the end of the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century, belonging to several order services from China and representing different coats of arms from the royal family, Portuguese families, religious orders or commemorative figures. China
InformationAvenida Brasília, Doca de Alcântara (Norte)
Telephone: (+351) 213 585 200
E-mail: email@example.com Admission
Over 65s: €3
Fridays 6pm-10pm: free of charge Opening hours
Tuesday to Sunday: 10am–6pm
Friday: 10am-10pm (free admission after 6pm)
Closed: Mondays, 1 January and 25 December Last admissions
Access to exhibitions ends 30 minutes before closing time. Getting to the museum
Buses: 12 | 28 | 714 | 720 | 738
Trams: 15E | 18E
Cascais Line (Alcântara Station) *
Azambuja Line (Alcântara-Terra)
* The Alcântara railway station has an underground pedestrian walkway, with an exit alongside the Museu do Oriente. Other Services and Facilities: Education Service
The António Alçada Batista Documentation Centre