So, today I learned a) how to buy a train ticket, b) how to ride the train, c) how to buy a metro ticket, d) how to change lines on the Lisbon metro, e) how to ask directions. The last item was the most frequent because f) I didn’t learn how to read the Lisbon tourist map. As they say in Welsh, I was just twp.
The ABLA guest house is in Carcavelos, west along the coast from Lisbon. The train rides along the coastline to Cais do Sodres, where a metro line also terminates. Then it’s a ride north to find the Gulbenkian Museum and Gallery of Modern Art.
The Museum is a gem, not huge, but housing exquisite items from ancient Egypt to pre-revolutionary France. How amazing to see the delicate carvings from 3,000 years ago or more. In the collection of Roman medallions, again beautifully carved, was ample proof that Hollywood blockbusters like Ben Hur got the soldiers’ armour right – fabulous miniature images of long dead soldiers, notable ladies and emperors.
Then it was Islamic art, a leap forward in time and a move into intricate pottery, glasswork, carpets, wall hangings, tiles – few of which represented anything human or animal. One Persian carpet, as big as our living room at home, had a flawless design in numerous colours, all of which presumably were held in the minds of the weavers – no computer aided design here.
The Chinese section was mostly 17th Century. What fresh looking colours on the pottery! – enamels in reality, but reds, greens, yellows and differing shades of blue, so detailed and still striking; a different league from European ceramics.
In the European section, once the artefacts had moved from Christian themes – embossed Bible covers, paintings of the flight to Egypt or Mary and the Christ child, wooden figures of Mary and John at the foot of the cross – the focus on French opulence and Dutch still life seemed too focussed on transience and human vanity.
Art and great buildings usually come from someone or some group accreting enormous wealth off the backs of poorer people. It was the French section that nauseatingly glorified the wealth holders, the other sections were – to a degree – more modest. So, thumbs up to ancient Egypt, the Graeco-Roman period, Islamic art and Chinese pottery.
For this privately acquired collection the items really are a wonder; my head ached at being pummelled by so much beauty.
22 February, 2011