Of monasteries, churches and art
In Guimarães, the heart of Portugal in the north of the country, the spirit of the past blends with the present in a fascinating way. Imposing mansions, stone arches stretching protectively over the narrow streets, and finely curved iron balustrades characterize the hilly townscape just as much as the spires of the old fortress towers, churches and monasteries stretching skyward. Housing nearly 160,000 inhabitants, the city in the district of Braga, some 55 kilometres from the port city of Porto, is considered the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques. The historic centre within the former city walls was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001. There, in the heart of the old town near Largo da Oliveira square, is the Alberto Sampaio Museum. It bears the name of a local historian (1841 to 1908) who co-founded the cultural institution known as the Martins Sarmento Society, in 1881. The museum site was already significant in the 10th century, as the fourth countess of Portugal, Mumadona Dias was benefactor to the building of a monastery called São Mamede there. Later, in the same location, the collegiate church of Nossa Senhora da Oliveira offered believers a place for contemplation and prayer.
Sacred site and collections: exceptional in every way
The church was dissolved in 1911 and in 1928 the Alberto Sampaio Museum moved into its old walls, which still house thousands of sacred works of art from the former holy sites of Guimarães. The museum extends across the former chapter house, priory and cloister – the latter is a particularly peaceful, dreamy site with its magnificent columns and leafy round arches. The cloister’s unusual architecture means it is known beyond the city limits. No less significant are the treasures inside the museum: collections of sculptures made of limestone and wood, liturgical goldsmith and ceramic works, carvings, paintings and textiles are part of them. And, of course, there are outstanding pieces among these exhibits: the Nativity Cryptichon, for example, a true rarity in the European art of the Middle Ages. The origin of the portable altar made of partly gilded silver is unclear. Some suggest that it was left behind by King John I of Castile as he fled the battle; others that it was donated by John I of Portugal after the victory in the Battle of Aljubarrota. Another exhibit also commemorates this historic event of August 14, 1385: a chain mail shirt that King João I. is said to have worn during the battle.
A cultural consciousness, surrounded by clay earth
After recent renovations, the remodelled museum shows a new appearance. Between 1999 and 2004 the exhibition rooms, among other things, were renovated. In the summer of 2019, a new section opened to visitors: two rooms finished in warm-toned clay plaster provide the setting for five tapestries and nine paintings from the late 19th and 20th centuries, created by select Portuguese artists. The works originate from the collection of Portugal’s leading credit insurance company, COSEC, and are on permanent loan to the museum. The cooperation aims to promote various art collections in Portugal and abroad to a greater extent and make them accessible to a wider public.
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Feel warmly welcomed thanks to clay plaster walls
Where could the pleasant balancing qualities of clay earth be put to better use than within medieval walls where people regularly linger to appreciate art? Especially valuable exhibits need an air quality that protects their sensitive surfaces and colours. Just like the paintings on display in the still-young exhibit rooms of the Alberto Sampaio Museum. Clay earth on interior walls absorbs and regulates moisture and temperature fluctuations as one of its natural properties – two reasons why the architects Sónia Moura and Carlos Fonseca chose YOSIMA clay designer plaster by CLAYTEC. The earthy colour (YOSIMA SCRO 1.0) also gives the central, five-meter-high hall an elegant yet warm appearance and softens the lighting, allowing guests to enjoy the atmospheric ambience.