10 Golden Treasures in Lisbon - The Best Guilded Art and Baroque Monuments

Many of Lisbon's plainest façades hide incredibly rich interiors. They follow a principle of distinction between the "body" and the "soul," with the body (the exterior) being less important than the soul (the interior), rich and fulfilled by God. Therefore, starting in the late 1600's, church walls were covered with tile panels and gold. Lisbon was the manufacturing center of the country, having two main periods of gilded woodcarving production -- during the reign of King John V, which developed the "Joanino" style, and the second half of the 18th century with the rise of the "Portuguese style," with more abundant structural motifs and denser ornamentation. The columns of Portuguese altars became completely covered with floral and vegetable motifs, especially with leaves, grapes, vines, Phoenix birds and cherubs. Everything mixed perfectly with other artistic creations in plaster, marble, canvas and especially tile.
The use of gilt in Portugal's architecture ended up having the same decorative importance as marble in Italy and stone in France. The result is some of the richest, most unique and artistic baroque architecture in Europe, and these are the top ten examples in Lisbon:

Santa Catarina Church

Calçada do Combro (Bairro Alto)

Igreja de Santa Catarina, Lisbon

Gilding from 1727 fills a large part of this church, from the main altar to the organ. The main altar is considered the most outstanding example of gilded art in Lisbon, and the rococo-style stucco decoration of the ceiling by the Italian Giovanni Grossi one of the most outstanding of its kind in Europe.
Also noteworthy is St. Paul's altar (the first one by the entrance), which mixes the Joanino and the Portuguese styles.

Madre de Deus Church

Rua da Madre de Deus, 4 (Xabregas)

Igreja do Convento da Madre de Deus, Lisbon

The sumptuous interior of the church of the convent of Madre de Deus is filled with gilding from the 1600s, partly framing paintings by the Portuguese artists André Gonçalves and Cristóvão Lopes. It's a marvelously artistic work, mixing the precious gilding with monumental tile panels.

São Roque Church

Largo Trindade Coelho (Bairro Alto)

Igreja de São Roque, Lisbon

This church not only has some of the most important Roman sacred art in the world, it's also decorated with several notable works of gilded woodcarving. The Chapel of Our Lady of Doctrine is magnificent (completely covered with gold), although it's the Chapel of St. John the Baptist that's considered the most extraordinary masterpiece.

Coaches Museum

Praça Afonso de Albuquerque/Avenida da Índia, 136 (Belém)

Coach, Lisbon

Several incredibly rich gold-covered works stand out in the great collection of the Coaches Museum. They're all ostentatious vehicles, especially those built during the reign of King John V, superior to any others throughout Europe, including those of Louis XIV of France.

Cardaes Convent

Rua de O Século, 123 (Príncipe Real)

Convento dos Cardaes, Lisbon

The church of this convent is a milestone of great importance in the development of gilded art in Lisbon. It was completed in 1693, with gilded frames around eight paintings, and gold filling the entire altar which ended up being considered the greatest example of the "Portuguese style" and one of the best preserved.

São Miguel Church

Largo de São Miguel (Alfama)

Igreja de São Miguel, Lisbon

The entire interior of this church is filled with gilded woodcarving, but what's most remarkable is the high altar begun in 1723. It includes images of the Four Evangelists together with other ornamental elements, in a work by two of the greatest master woodcarvers of the time.

Pena Church

Calçada de Santana (Pena)

Igreja da Pena, Lisbon

The gilded decoration of this church was an innovation in the early 1700s, becoming the pioneer of the Joanino style in Lisbon. This is where gilding reached remarkable artistic quality, later replicated in other churches.

Encarnação Convent

Largo do Convento da Encarnação (Pena)

Convento da Encarnação, Lisbon

Created in 1719, with magnificent sculpting with the theme of the "Annunciation", the high altar of this church is one of the richest artistic works in Lisbon, mainly for its iconographic significance. The church is part of a convent built in 1630 which suffered some damage in the earthquake of 1755, but was restored in 1758.
The altar is supported by a base of polychrome marbles, while the walls are covered in panels of blue and white tiles. Unfortunately, few people can admire this work of art, as both the convent and the church are not open to the public.

Anjos Church

Avenida Almirante Reis (Anjos)

Igreja dos Anjos, Lisbon

The neoclassical exterior of this church is just over one hundred years old, but the baroque interior dates back to the 1600s. The original building was torn down to make way for Avenida Almirante Reis, but the rich decorative features were preserved. The impressive gilded woodwork covers most of the space, with the exception of some pink marble. There are also several canvases, and paintings from the 1500s.

Marvila Church

Rua Direita de Marvila, 13 (Marvila)

Igreja de Marvila, Lisbon

Built as part of a convent, this church was completed in 1680, but much of the interior dates from works started a few years later. Covered in gilt and tiles, it’s a fine example of Portuguese Baroque in Lisbon, very similar to the church of the Convent of Madre de Deus.