The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London’s Hyde Park, was such an innovative event that many considered it the dawn of a new era. Without doubt it had a remarkable effect on industrial production, international trade and tourism. It also had a decisive impact on museology and education in the arts.
This enormous competition demonstrated that the price of a manufactured product was not only to be determined according to its useful value, but equally on the criteria of taste.
In order to counteract France’s unanimous supremacy on the subject of good taste, the English founded an institution to broaden the influence of art and science on industry: it was called the Victoria and Albert Museum. This innovative establishment worked closely with a design school, a centre for a network of local schools, in order to help refine the taste of those most directly involved in industrial production.
António Augusto Gonçalves (1848-1932) Founder of the Museu Machado de Castro.
Subsequent World Fairs revealed a considerable improvement in British industrial production in terms of taste. A movement was born which stemmed from the resulting commotion and interest in the subject, spreading throughout Europe in the form of a new sub-type of art museum: the so-called industrial art museum linked to a design school.
The first concrete evidence of this trend in Portugal came in 1878 with the opening of the Escola Livre das Artes do Desenho in Coimbra through the initiative of the teacher of drawing, António Augusto Gonçalves (1848 – 1932). This institution was, in part, responsible for the artistic resurgence in Coimbra during the following 50 years, which was to be felt far beyond the city’s boundaries. After setting up the Coimbra District Manufacturer’s Exhibition in 1884 he sought, unsuccessfully, to obtain more spacious facilities in order to found the museum foreseen in its statutes.
A. Gonçalves finally achieved this objective in 1887 by founding the ephemeral Museu Municipal de Arte e Indústrias, which the subsequent town council condemned to failure by impeding its development.
Appointed curator of the Museu do Instituto de Coimbra in 1895, A. Gonçalves transformed the establishment and formally reopened it to the public on April 26th 1896. Not only did he remodel the facilities, but he also considerably modified the Museum’s very nature and vocation. The Museum clearly took on a social role to «influence education and work» by adding to the lapides and archaeological specimens, the sculpture, painting, faiance, ‘azulejos’, and artistic metalwork and plate-work collections. (figs. 2 and 3).
3.‘Educational’ exhibit, following the concept by A. A. Gonçalves, 1896
The ceramic collections of the Instituto de Coimbra, 1896
Under a law passed on May 26th 1919, the Republican government became responsible for administrating museums and protecting patrimony, as well as managing fine arts education. However the law was not issued until António Augusto Gonçalves had revised it and introduced several important alterations. It was this document which founded the Machado de Castro Museum in an article drafted by the man who was to become its first director. It proclaimed that the new establishment be «organized primarily with the aim of enabling the public to study collections and examples of the history of national production; and that it shall be expanded to include a section on modern artifacts to educate public taste, and to teach the working classes». The same article also stated that the Museu da Sé should become a division of the Machado de Castro Museum, but remain under the direction of its founder. The Museum da Sé was the first sacred arts museum in Portugal. It was inaugurated in 1884 by the most eminent member of the Portuguese episcopate, Manuel Correia de Bastos Pina (fig. 4), and had been nationalized a month earlier under the Law of Separation of State and Church.
Manuel Bastos Pina. Portrait by his nephew, Costa Mota, 1935
Until the end, A. Gonçalves always re-vindicated the classification of an industrial art museum for the institution he was directing, refusing to call it a mere repository for artistic rarities. In contrast to the elitist model, his concept of a museum meant a school «for artists, antiquarians and those of all categories given to study» with an emphasis on education throughout its operation. As João Couto stated, «the Museu de Coimbra, undoubtedly served as a model for the provincial museums that were founded during that period».
5. Museum painting course. V. Correia continues arts instruction, which his antecessor had praised.
On November 24th 1929, Vergílio Correia (1888 – 1944), professor of Aesthetics and Art History at the University of Coimbra, took on the functions of Museum director. In contrast to his predecessor, he comfortably accepted the concept of a regional museum in terms of the nature of the collections. He may have had greater difficulty with this had the concept of a regional museum meant an intermediate category between the national museums (based in Lisbon) and local ones. Vergílio Correia believed that the Museum would be recognized for its primacy, due to the excellence of one of its collections: «I am sure that one day – perhaps in the near future – the Museum of Coimbra will be officially considered the National Sculpture Museum».
6. Hall of ‘Graphic Urban Documentation’, 1931.
The second director thus led the Museum on the basis that it was «structurally artistic», but without failing to consider its other complementary merits. First, he inaugurated the Hall of Graphic Urban Documentation (fig. 6) in 1931, a compilation of drawings, plans, photographs and other records of bygone days in the city. He also expanded the Museum’s archaeology section by founding a prehistoric collection that he planned to develop further.
7. Exhibit of the C. Pessanha Collection, inaugurated in 1932.>
Also, as of 1930, he carried out successive excavation campaigns in Conimbriga and gathered the finds here. Finally, it was his intention to found an ethnographic division «which would harmoniously complete the Museum complex». It was to be installed in the section of the building attached to the Bishop’s residence, which housed the Instituto de Coimbra. Vergílio Correia also brought together an initial collection of folk art, which consisted of some two hundred such specimens, mainly ceramics. His successor would later turn these over to the Instituto de Coimbra during the first year of his mandate and again, in 1953, to the Ethnographic Division of the Coimbra City Hall. Following a series of essential repair works the Minister, Duarte Pacheco, appointed a commission on May 31st 1935, which included Dr. Vergílio Correia and the architects Baltasar de Castro and Luís Benavente, to study the complete remodelling of the museum. An overall plan was drawn up leaving no corner of the Museum untouched. It would take two decades to carry out, including a series of necessary alterations, lasting until the beginning of the third director’s mandate.
8. View of the Museum patio before the onset of remodelling work by V. Correia
Of course a project of this scale could hardly avoid affecting the museographic organization established since the founding of the Museum. The most obvious vestiges of the building’s conversion to a museum were taken away. This meant removing the panels of ‘azulejos’ (fig. 8), that decorated the building’s façades and closing the windows installed by Gonçalves to improve the illumination of the halls. This required the installation of artificial lighting. On the other hand, it was expected that the collection of goldsmithery would leave the church of S. João de Almedina to occupy five halls on the first floor of the south wing of the old palace.
9. Catalogue of the textile department by A. Nogueira Gonçalves, 1943.>
Although the building’s transformation constantly required changes in the objects on exhibition, Vergílio Correira published a four-volume illustrated catalogue of the main collections of the Museum. For the most part, this edition was the work of the assistant curator, Father António Nogueira Gonçalves, to whom we owe the volumes dedicated to Goldsmithery, Ceramics and Textiles (fig. 9), the first catalogue on the subject to be published in Portugal. José Correia da Fonseca also collaborated on this last volume which was published after the director’s death.
In the seven years following Dr. Vergílio Correia’s premature death, on June 3rd 1944, nobody assumed the duties of director of the Machado de Castro Museum despite a competition opened in November of that year. After attempts by the First Republic to implement decentralization measures, as of 1932,the Council of the Faculty of Fine-Arts proposed the nomination of museum directors following a three-year apprenticeship at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga and a public examination.
MDuring the 1920s and 1930s temporary museum exhibits were a rarity in Portugal as well as abroad. This was due to the lack of both appropriate space and specialists on the subject. It was only in 1940 that the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga dedicated a hall to temporary exhibits. A significant event of this nature was the Exhibit of Portuguese Goldsmithery from the 12th to the 17th centuries at the Museu Machado de Castro. It was part of a double centenary commemorative programme dedicated to the founding of the nation and the restoration of independence (1940), for which 240 very important pieces were gathered together, the majority being of a religious nature. More than a third of the items on show were chosen from cathedrals, charitable institutions and parish churches and were therefore less well known than the museum pieces, from which 115 specimens belonging to the Coimbra collection were of particular significance. In 1949 an important Exhibition of Medieval Portuguese Sculpture was organized on the occasion of the 16th International Art History Congress, whose work sessions took place in Lisbon, Coimbra and Oporto. Of the 82 religious images exhibited, 40 belonged to the Museum.
Luís Reis Santos (1898 – 1967) was appointed as the third director of the Museum on May 18th, 1951 by government decree. His mandate showed two essential concerns: the first being in the realm he called external activities. He is well known for his efforts to develop the communication aspect of the Museum, to create wider public interest in the collections and their related themes. On an internal level, however, all of the measures he implemented were meant to strictly follow the «requirements of modern museological science», an area with which Reis Santos was well acquainted
10. Exhibit dedicated to the Rainha Santa, July 1952.
Before this new director took on his duties, he had special instructions put in the fiscal budget of the Museum for 1952 to finance publications and publicity. He was amazed by the absence of posters and pamphlets «indispensable when the Museum begins to hold temporary exhibitions and conferences». It was clearly the beginning of a fresh approach implemented through a communications policy that conveyed a new accessibility and appeal to the visitor. Specific activities, such as events aimed to attract the press, incite public interest and bring people to the Museum also manifested this newfound attitude. With the appearance of unesco and icom in the post-war period, a statement announcing that «even in the richest countries, museum entrances (often free) fail to reach even 0.5% of total cinema ticket sales» caused a huge debate about the place and role of museums in the community. At the unesco General Conference of 1960, a recommendation was even adopted stating that member States should make museums more accessible to everyone. As soon as the repairs to the building permitted, Reis Santos improvised a conference room and two halls for temporary exhibitions. This began a practice that would regularly characterize his organization’s activities. And so it was that from June 9th–12th of 1952 that the first four conferences were held as part of a series having museums as the theme. The following month he opened the first two temporary exhibitions. It is remarkable that the exhibition about the Queen Santa Isabel (fig. 10), from the 10th–31st of July of that year, attracted more than 7000 visitors. After these first activities the Museum began to take on joint projects and hold exhibitions from other national or foreign institutions such as the National Information Office or the British Council. In this area, the collaboration with the Círculo de Artes Plásticas da Associação Académica de Coimbra was the most fruitful. Reis Santos had given it his unconditional support since its foundation at the end of 1958, even installing it in Museum rooms that were awaiting repair work. Meanwhile cinema became as important a tool for teaching and understanding art as the illustrated book or a travelling exhibition, being able to reach a comparatively wider public. From March until May of 1958, Reis Santos organized a series of sessions in the church of S. João de Almedina entitled ‘The Evolution of Art from Prehistory to Our Time’. Speeches accompanied documentaries provided by diplomats from various countries who were based in Lisbon. This initiative was such a success, having received generous audiences and praise from the press, that it was announced that a repeat of the series would be held in Lisbon.
11. Reis Santos at the opening for one of the first contemporary art exhibits at the Museum, 1958
From July 3rd–8th of the same year, 1958, study sessions related to the first International Colloquium on Art took place in the Museum. Reis Santos avoided inconveniences caused by the closure of several rooms undergoing repairs by organizing thematic displays.
In a temporary Baroque art exhibit he brought together some of the most beautiful pieces of sculpture, painting, goldsmithery, ceramics and textiles from the 17th and 18th centuries. When the second Colloquium took place from May 23rd to 29th of the following year, a temporary exhibition of 16th century art was organized (fig. 12).
12. Thematic exhibit on Flemish artwork in the 1950s.
The director felt that the Museum had a crucial role to play «which under certain terms, surpasses the sphere of influence of similar state organizations» due to its location in the «great spiritual and academic centre of the country». With this understanding, in July 1953, a proposal was made to the Art Department of the University of Coimbra to create a Centre for the Study of Art and Archaeology to be based in the Machado de Castro Museum. A professor of Art History from the Art Department and the director of the Museum would be in charge of this organization. They would endeavor to promote studies specializing in the subject, to ensure their publication and coordinate the work of students with scholarships in these subjects. In July 1954, the Council of the Faculty of Fine-Arts decided to appoint Reis Santos to teach Aesthetics and Art History and, subsequently, to organize an Art History Institute to function as a «centre for specialist studies». This would fill the void as intended by the original project. In 1965 the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro was finally recognized as a National Museum and, even though the criteria used to attribute it to this category remain undetermined, it must be acknowledged that this chapter, in which the Museum defined the essential aspects of an identity which has characterized it ever since, has now been closed.
13. IV Meeting of Museum Curators, 1963. Reis Santos conversing with João Couto.