To Lisbon: 75 works of the Treasure of the Holy Sepulchre on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

To Lisbon: 75 works of the Treasure of the Holy Sepulchre on display at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

After many months of inspections, investigations and tests, 75 works of art belonging to the Terra Sancta Museum have set off on their journey to Europa. Their destination: Lisbon, and one of the most famous museums in Portugal, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum which from November 2023 until 15th February 2024 will host this exhibition of masterpieces of the Custody of the Holy Land.

The works of art, selected after careful and meticulous work by the team of Professor António Filipe Pimentel – currently the Director of the Gulbenkian Museum and who had the idea of the exhibition – are unique and rare pieces (religious objects, jewellery, ornaments and sacred vestments) donated by the European Royal Households to express their devotion to the Holy Places and support the Custody of the Holy Land. They include a selection of fine liturgical objects in solid silver, such as the Bas-Relief of the Resurrection, given by the Kingdom of Naples in 1736 and the  Basin of Pedro II of Braganza, King of Portugal in 1675, used by the Custos of the Holy Land for washing the feet of pilgrims. The Portuguese gifts will occupy the place of honour in this exhibition “The treasure of Kings. Masterpieces from the Museum of the Holy Land”.

“It is a very delicate packaging job,” – said Rui Filipe Teixeira Xavier, chief curator of Preventive Conservation at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, as he supervised the conclusive operations before closing the wooden crates especially made for the shipment – “with the works being closely supervised before the journey to Lisbon, to ensure transport and arrival at destination in the best conditions possible.”

In the coming months, these pieces will be studied and analysed, followed by their restoration, renovation and cleaning by the experts of the Gulbenkian Foundation and external collaborators. This will be followed by documentary and photographic work for the production of the catalogue of the temporary exhibition. All these works will then go into the new historical section of the Terra Santa Museum, in the most important room of the Museum dedicated to the “Treasure of the Holy Sepulchre.”

“The Custody of the Holy Land is working on the opening of a third section of the Museum in the St Saviour complex in 2025: this exhibition in Lisbon is a unique possibility to allow the restoration and appreciation of the most important pieces of the collection before they are put on permanent display,” emphasized Fr. Stéphane Milovitch, Director of the Department of the Cultural Heritage of the Custody. “It is the first time that we have lent our masterpieces to Portugal, a country which in history has made countless gifts to the Custody. It will be a rare occasion for the Portuguese to get to know the artistic heritage of a particular period in history which has been destroyed, due to calamities and disasters – not lastly the terrible earthquake of Lisbon in 1755.”

Frederico do Nascimento, Head of the Mission at the Office of Representation of Portugal  at the Palestinian Authority, does not hide his satisfaction: “I am aware I am present at a  very special and important moment for Portugal. These works are the living testimony not only of the faith of our people but also of the strong bond between the Portuguese monarchy and Jerusalem. They also reveal how the history of art in Portugal evolved.”

After the exhibition at the Gulbenkian Museum, the works will travel to New York, where an exhibition is planned at the Frick Collection, and then in other European countries currently  being finalized, before they return once and for all to Jerusalem, where it will be possible to admire them, at last, in the new Museum of the Custody.

Silvia Giuliano