Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian was born in Scutari (now Üskaüdar, a district of Istanbul, Turkey) in 1869 into a family of Armenian origin. A pioneer of the oil industry and an exceptionally discerning and knowledgeable collector, Gulbenkian arrived in Portugal in 1942 as the Second World War raged in Europe. He spent the remaining years of his life in Lisbon and died there in 1955.
In 1956, with the creation of the Foundation that takes his name, Gulbenkian’s wish ‒ that the works of art he had assembled over four decades as a collector would be kept together under one roof ‒ was met.
This desire was fulfilled in 1969 with the inauguration of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. The museum’s collection numbers some 6,000 pieces. The breadth of the collection reflects Gulbenkian’s personal preferences and tastes, which always guided him. It covers various periods of the history of art, from Classical and Oriental antiquity to European art of the early twentieth century.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, set in the grounds of Parque Santa Gertrudes, is a landmark of museum architecture in Portugal. With numerous openings to the exterior, the building offers visitors a continuous dialogue between Nature and Art.
The permanent exhibition galleries are on the first floor distributed around two patios. Each gallery links with its successor according to a chronological and geographical system of classification, resulting in two independent itineraries within the general circuit of the museum.
Gulbenkian was especially interested in Oriental art (perhaps because of his own origins) and the collection’s numerous ceramics, carpets, tapestries, illuminations, book bindings and mosque lamps from the East are an illustration of this interest. These exhibits trace the various artistic tendencies of Persia, Turkey, Syria, the Caucasus, Armenia and India from the 12th to the 18th centuries, and are on display in the Oriental‒Islamic Gallery.