The azulejo is one of the most characteristic expressions of Portuguese fine arts and one of the elements that clearly identify the Portuguese culture and aesthetic language. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo acts as a showcase for the immense ceramic heritage found in many places in Portugal. It is one of the most important museums in the country and is unparalleled in Portugal due to its unique collection, as well as for the building where it is located - the ancient Convent of Madre de Deus (Mother of God), founded in 1509 by Queen D. Leonor (1458-1525), a peerless work of Portuguese religious architecture. Following major works undertaken on the orders of D. João III (1502-1566), further works followed in the reigns of D. Pedro II (1648-1706) and D. João V (1689-1750). Gilt wood carvings covered the altars and picture frames, articulating with the blue .
The collection covers the production of azulejo from the second half of the 15th century to the present day. In addition to the azulejo the collection integrates ceramics, porcelain and faïence of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The route allows the visitant to have an overview of the history of the azulejo production in the Portuguese territory until the present day, as well as to visit the spaces of the ancient convent, with particular reference to the Church, the chapter-house, the cloisters and the Chapel of Saint Anthony.
The exhibition begins with the Islamic origins of the azulejo, seen in both its name and the techniques and decoration used. From this brief introduction, the expository route follows a chronological organization. The highlights of the exhibition include an azulejo made in Seville c.1508-1509 with the armillary sphere (king D. Manuel's personal symbol), the retable of Nossa Senhora da Vida (Lisbon, c.1580), the pattern compositions and the altar frontals of the 17th century, The Leopard Hunt and Singerie: The Marriage of the Hen (Lisbon, 17th century), the commissions of the blue and white tiles to The Netherlands (also covering the Church's walls) and the Portuguese production, the Grand Panorama of Lisbon (Lisbon, c.1700) and the modern and contemporary artists.
The Museu Nacional do Azulejo has one of the best and most complete collections of contemporary authorial revetments, displaying the multiple proposals produced in recent times.