Nativity scenes are part of Portugal’s cultural heritage, dating back to the Middle Ages, and it is fitting that there should be a room dedicated to the Portuguese nativity scene (presépio) in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon. The most noteworthy scenes are the baroque ones designed for convents and stately homes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the one from São Vicente de Fora by Joaquim José de Barros and the one from the Convento de Nossa Senhora das Necessidades. While the central scene in all the nativity scenes depicts the birth of Christ and the arrival of the shepherds and the three kings, the sculptures also include other episodes from the gospels, alongside idealised scenes of everyday town and rural life, which would have been recognisable to the Portuguese of the time. The baroque style includes a complex mixture of naturalism and opulence conveyed through the medium of clay, wood and cork. Some scenes are encased in intricate display cases. The scale and level of detail is impressive and a little overwhelming when all of them are viewed together.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Rua das Janelas Verdes, Lisbon
Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm