In this edition of VC Museum Visits, we tour the Museum-School of Portuguese Decorative Arts in Lisbon.
Located in the shadow of an ancient Moorish wall in the hillside district of Alfama, this exquisite museum is run by the Ricardo Espirito de Santo Silva Foundation.* It’s housed in the former palace of the Viscounts of Azurara, which the late Senhor Espirito do Santo Silva (1900-1955), a banker and lavish patron of the arts, purchased in 1947 specifically for the purpose of creating a museum. A lifelong admirer of Alfama, Lisbon’s most historic district, he was also keen to preserve the skills and traditions of the artisans who lived in the area, hence the inclusion of a school in the foundation.
I knew I was going to love it as soon as I saw what was in the vestibule.
Versailles: A Visit to the King’s Private Apartments, Part 2
In the late afternoon of the first day of my visit to Versailles, I went along to the ticket office of the Chateau to buy my ticket for the next day, including a guided tour of the Private Apartments. There were various tours in several languages, but the young woman behind the counter flatteringly recommended that I take the French language tour at 10:30, on the grounds that it was the most thorough one. I duly purchased a ticket and wandered off in the rain — the weather was relentlessly wet throughout my visit — to find my dinner.
All but skipping with excitement, I turned up the following morning at the designated entrance for the Private Apartments tour. This entrance is on the north side of the Cour Royale (the Royal Court), the great courtyard that precedes the Cour de Marbre (the Marble Court) at the heart of the palace. A uniformed man checked my ticket and waved me inside. A young woman in a smart black pantsuit and a headset then asked me which tour I was there for, and directed me into an adjoining salon. This turned out to be the holding tank for imminent tours. It retained its 18th century boiserie, but was furnished with sleek contemporary furniture, which I’m tempted to say was by Philippe Starck, but I’m not sure. Another pant-suited young lady appeared and gave me a pair of earphones. I nearly protested that I hadn’t asked for an audio guide, but held my peace. All became clear when the actual guide appeared, a brisk, middle-aged Frenchwoman. She instructed us to put in our earbuds and see if we could hear her on the audio system that was connecting us. A very sensible system, this. Nothing is more annoying on a guided tour than straining, and failing, to hear what the guide is saying. We were a group of about 15 or 20. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-francophone apart from a young woman from Brazil who was studying art history in Paris, which I know because we had a chat after the tour. In fact, it turned out that she was taking a course on museology and asked me if I would oblige her by taking a short survey about my Versailles experience. I obliged, of course.
Versailles: A Visit to the King’s Private Apartments, Part 1.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit, given my longstanding interest in the place and the fact that I have a degree in French, that I didn’t visit Versailles, or even Paris, until April of this year. Basically, I was distracted for nearly 20 years by my work and travels in Asia, which you can read more about on my other blog and gallery website, Lotus & Persimmon.
I’m happy to say that Versailles lived up to 30 years of expectation. My visit did not proceed quite as planned, though. I had devised a very specific program for myself:
Day 1: Take a midday train from Paris to Versailles; check in to my hotel; scout the town; but my tickets for the Chateau for the next day; wander in the gardens of the Chateau; dine in the town; turn in early.
Day 2: Join a guided tour of the Private Apartments; see the State Rooms; have lunch in the town; see Mesdames’ Apartments; visit the Musee Lambinet in the town; dine in the town again; turn in early.
Day 3: Visit the Trianons in the morning; have lunch in town; take an early afternoon train back to Paris.
Needless to say there was a fly in the ointment, which in this case was the weather. Late March and early April 2016 were very wet in France (and Portugal, as I subsequently experienced). I saw very little of the gardens because of the frequent downpours, and by the end of Day 2 I simply abandoned the idea of visiting the Trianons, which was just as well because the Chateau was closed on Day 3 due to a transport strike! I was lucky even to make it back to Paris.
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