This collection, although it has gaps, covers the 16th to 19th centuries and embraces the Manueline, Renaissance, ‘Filipino’, Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-Classical periods, illustrating developments in the evolution of Portuguese furniture and demonstrating some of the main characteristics, in terms of originality and influences, which distinguish it from the European furniture that had served as models or sources of inspiration. Above all, this collection enables us to observe the evolution of certain typologies, particularly through the collection of seating furniture.

The collection includes a wide range of church pieces, amongst them chests, large missal stands, candle stands and collection boxes. Nearly all the works on display are for domestic use, or adapted for such purposes, as they best illustrate the quality and importance of this collection.

Gothic furniture is rarely found in museums, not only because of the low levels of comfort required during this period, but also due to the scarcity of wood and the rudimentary process of the production of domestic furniture. A further reason could be the lack of appraisal given to furniture of the Gothic period during the centuries that followed.

There are also very few pieces of Renaissance influence; a style which began to establish itself in Portugal towards the end of the reign of D. Manuel, accompanying greater social stability demanding changes in the requirements of furniture.

In the 16th century, the cupboard ( fig. 1 ) begins to gain importance, whilst the chest continues to be the preferred item for storage purposes.

The most significant characteristics of Portuguese furniture begin to appear in the first half of the 17th century: the use of tooled leather and home-grown woods, such as dark oak and walnut, are to be increasingly replaced by the exotic woods from Africa, India or Brazil, especially ebony. The chair becomes the most predominant item of furniture.

During the ‘filipino’ period an important variety of characteristically Portuguese furniture evolves, encompassing strong wooden stools, upright chairs or chairs with armrests with tooled leather seats and backs, innumerous chests and small, low benches. All these pieces are characterized by their austere geometric lines: plain shapes, lack of any salient volume, simple turned balusters, upright legs and supports with square or rectangular cross-sections. The decoration is also sober, mainly in the design of the inlays, the chevron patterns and the wave mouldings.

During the 17th century furniture also illustrates the contact that the Portuguese had with other peoples and cultures through hybrid styles, resulting from travels, encounters and the experience of different life-styles. These pieces, particularly the Indo-Portuguese examples, attain the status of luxury items, whereas the cabinet-on-stand (contador) represents the most charismatic typology of this country. (figs. 3 and 4 ).

The namban lacquer pieces were also highly appreciated: made for export, following traditional techniques, they represent a formal typology of furniture familiar in the West at the time, but unknown in Japan before the arrival of the Portuguese. ( fig. 7 ).
The 18th century, characterized by the introduction of a new style, maintains the leather chair from the previous century ( fig. 9 ). Although greatly modified, these chairs continue to be one of the most successful of Portuguese creations.

Along with the simple, studded and tooled leather chairs, the upholstered chair comes into use although with less frequency. Covered with velvet or damask and, in some cases, plain leather or fabric of lower quality, removable fabric slip covers being adapted for them, giving origin to the name: ‘dressed chairs’ ( fig. 12 ).

The leather-backed chairs fall out of fashion and the particular features of Portuguese furniture are gradually to disappear due to the strong influence of European models, mainly as a result of royal marriages to foreign princesses.

The principal models are French, Italian, and English. The collection is rich in examples from the reigns of D. João V, D. José and Dona Maria illustratingthe splendour of the Baroque, the Rocaille modifications and finally, the Neo-Classical reaction: the first two, in particular, represent flourishing periods in Portuguese furniture design (figs. 11 13 ).

The early 18th century, during the reign of D. João V, sees a period of economic prosperity and display of power, marked by the strong influences received from the French Court in Versailles ( fig. 5 ).

The characteristic magnificence of the Baroque distinguishes this period, manifesting itself in a profusion of carved woodwork, the principal motifs being the shell and symmetrical shell-shaped designs aligned along a vertical axis ( fig. 6 ).

The concept of comfort becomes the dominant feature during this period leading to an increase in supply, especially for seating furniture, with a day bed or a canapé combining with a set of chairs to provide the furniture for a room. The canapé ( fig. 14 ) responds to the need for collective seating, satisfying the new comfort requirements as well as revealing the taste for socializing in the home.

As of 1750, during the reign of the king, D. José, the English influence prevails, particularly in the north of Portugal, characterizing the taste of the dominant middle-class. Furniture continues to reflect the influence of the French models, especially the style of Louis XV, only accessible to the top hierarchies of the Court in Lisbon.

During the era referred to as ‘Dona Maria’ (1777–1816), furniture is more closely linked to architecture, although, given the Queen’s conservatism, the Rocaille style continues until the end of the century. The new models of furniture reveal the English influence, especially that of such celebrated craftsmen as Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton.

The use of cane becomes widespread and furniture displays Neo-Classical motifs. During this period, ebony and solid wooden pieces are put aside in favour of light coloured wood marquetry. In the south, the French influence is stronger and geometric compositions, veneered and inlaid, are popular. The shapes are simple and the lines pure, definitively eliminating curves. Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Portuguese furniture finally adopts Neo-Classicism.

Domestic furniture undergoes a new identity crisis as a consequence of a period shaken by war, marked by the departure of the royal family to Brazil and the French invasions. With an increase in imports tastes change, albeit reluctantly. Gradually, the Portuguese begin to accept the more rigid forms of the French Imperial style which, once again, attempts to reinstate the purer contours of Antiquity.

This style corresponds with the reign of D. João VI when solid or veneered mahogany becomes popular and the previously fashionable marquetry work was abandoned. The dark, smooth and polished mahogany surfaces, enlivened with ormolu mounts, are frequently replaced by gilt carved wood, sometimes framing an escutcheon.

A few examples of this style are found in the collection of seat furniture in the Museum. The pieces are upright, with square cross-section or sabre legs and armrests decorated either with sphinxes and caryatids, or heads and necks of swans.

As with the majority of the Portuguese collections, the representation is limited due to the scarce numbers of craftsmen adhering to this style, the rigid, geometric shapes of the Imperial style furniture being unfamiliar to the traditions of Portuguese craftsmanship.