Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Museums : Portugal

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    Gomes, Sérgio
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    Following the suppression of religious orders and the nationalization of cultural property effected by the liberal reformist programme, the Portuguese state became responsible for various buildings and collections, including art collections; these became the nuclei that allowed the formation of specialized museums whose intended role was to educationally display the country’s artistic heritage to the public. The <em>Museu Portuense</em> (nowadays the <em>Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis</em>) opened its doors in Porto in 1833 as an institution housing erstwhile monastic collections from the region. In 1836, the <em>Academias de Belas-Artes do Porto e de Lisboa</em> were founded; in 1884, the Lisbon Academy opened its <em>Museu de Belas-Artes e Arqueologia</em> (currently the <em>Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga</em>).

    The management of the collections from religious institutions also necessitated the creation of regional museums. In 1836 new legislation stipulated that every district in the country was to have a public library and an “office of rarities” to house various types of collections. This programme did not come into effect immediately: the significance of local museums (initiated by local authorities and scholars and regional associations) only emerged towards the end of the century. Archeological activities were a powerful force mobilizing regional and central authorities to establish museum spaces (e.g. the museums in Faro and Bragança) for the display of excavated artefacts. As these museums also tried to contribute to regional development, in some cases the economic activities of a region were exhibited and as such, the museum spaces became exhibitions not only of a region’s past, but also of its present and future: thus the <em>Museu Distrital de Santarém</em>; the <em>Museu Municipal de Arte Industrial</em> and the <em>Museu Machado de Castro</em> (Coimbra); the <em>Museu Arqueológico</em> and the <em>Museu Industrial</em> (Guimarães); the <em>Museu Municipal</em> <em>de Figueira da Foz</em>.

    Economic exhibits in the regional museums correlated with a broader movement based around the creation of the Industrial and Commercial Museums of Lisbon and Porto (1884). These were part of a government plan to promote economic growth and technical training. However, in 1899 these museums were closed and their collections distributed amongst the various industrial schools which, in previous years, had been opened around the country. The Polytechnic School of Lisbon and the Polytechnic Academy of Porto (1837), which promoted the reorganization, or the creation of, museums and botanical gardens, were geared towards the natural sciences. Other spaces associated with the dissemination of the natural sciences were the <em>Museu de História Natural de Lisboa</em>, the <em>Jardim Botânico da Escola Politécnica de Lisboa</em>, the <em>Jardim Zoológico e de Aclimatação de Lisboa</em>, the <em>Aquário Vasco da Gama</em> in Oeiras, and the <em>Museu Açoriano</em> in Ponta Delgada.

    National identity-building was implied in all these ventures, also in the Natural History Museum of the University of Coimbra, restructured in 1855 to include an anthropological section displaying materials from Portugal and its colonies, and linked to the chair of anthropology, human paleontology, and prehistoric archeology created in that same year. In 1859, the <em>Comissão Geológica do Reino</em> opened the Geological Museum, where artefacts from prehistoric periods were displayed alongside the geological collections. In 1864, the <em>Associação dos Arquitetos Civis e Arqueólogos Portugueses</em> founded the <em>Museu Arqueológico do Carmo</em> to house collections originating from the archeological endeavours of the association’s members. And in 1870, on the initiative of the Ministry of the Navy and Colonies, the <em>Museu Colonial de Lisboa</em> opened. Shortly afterwards, the collections housed there were donated to the <em>Sociedade de Geografia</em>, which in 1875 founded the <em>Museu Colonial e Etnográfico</em>. In the above institutions, the archeological and anthropological discourse of the time dictated that the expositions brought together collections of material pertaining to national history and tradition. However, there was no concern to establish a comprehensive vision of the past.

    The gathering of several collections that would allow for a display of national identity would only later be formalized in the project of a national museum proposed in 1893 by José Leite de Vasconcellos to the Ministry of Public Works (then under the leadership of Bernardino Machado, who as an academic had in 1855 been involved in the aforementioned restructuring of the University of Coimbra’s Natural History Museum). The proposal obtained government endorsement and matured into the <em>Museu Etnográfico Português</em>. It had two sections, archeological (containing artefacts from the origins of man to the 18th century) and contemporary (containing ethnographic material), and was intended (as its charter phrased it) to “represent the material aspect of the life of the Portuguese people – that means, everything that ethnically characterizes us”, aiming to showcasing the nation’s identity, to educate the public, and to inspire artists. In 1897, the museum was designated the <em>Museu Etnológico</em>, and in 1900 it was housed in the Monastery of Jerónimos, where it opened to the public in 1906.

    The <em>Museu Etnológico</em> was meant to represent the Portuguese people through the contributions of archeology, anthropology, and ethnography. Archeological material eventually came to dominate it. Although Vasconcellos had undertaken extensive research in the area of national ethnography, the ethnographic material was ancillary to the historicist approach; this was evident in an early-20th-century exhibition which, while ethnographic in scope, was organized into assemblages from different chronological periods. The order imposed on the material culture of the Portuguese people favoured the temporality of the collections and created a public awareness of the uniqueness of the nation’s material expression over time. It was only later, with the advent of the <em>Estado Novo</em> (1933-74) and the exaltation of rural life as the essence of the nation, that ethnography and anthropology obtained a significant museological presence (notably with the creation of the <em>Museu de Arte Popular</em> and other local ethnographic museums).

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  • Damasceno, Joana; Museus para o povo português (Coimbra: Coimbra UP, 2010).

    Delicado, Ana; A musealização da ciência em Portugal (Lisbon: FCG/FCT, 2009).

    Fabião, Carlos; “José Leite Vasconcelos (1858-1941): Um archeólogo português”, O arqueólogo Português, 4.2 (2008), 97-126.

    Gouveia, Henrique Coutinho; “Acerca do conceito e evolução dos museus regionais Portugueses desde finais do século XIX ao regime do Estado Novo”, Bibliotecas, arquivos e museus, 1 (1885), 147-184.

    Gouveia, Henrique Coutinho; “Museu etnológico português (1893-1914): Um projecto nacional e uma tentativa de conjugação disciplinar”, Revista da FCSH, 6 (1992), 197-209.

    Melo, Daniel; Salazarismo e Cultura popular, 1933-1958 (Lisbon: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 2001).

    Moreira, Isabel; Museus e monumentos em Portugal, 1772-1974 (Lisbon: Universidade Aberta, 1989).

    Raposo, Luís; “Arqueologia e museus em Portugal desde finais do século XIX”, Al-Madan, 2.8 (1999), 169-176.

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Gomes, Sérgio, 2022. "Museums : Portugal", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 26-04-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.