Didem Doğan

From trade to art: Gulbenkian Museum

One of the museums in Lisbon that you can visit has a story which has a connection to our home country. The Gulbenkian Museum is a small cultural center which contains predominantly ancient art works in a building located in a big park. It has auditoriums, a library, and a conference hall. It has an architecture style like those in communist countries. 

The museum hosts nearly more than 1000 art pieces; from Ancient Greek and Roman pieces, the Near Eastern-Eygptian, Mesopotomian, Armenian, and Islamic art works, to European and Renaissance pieces. The Hermitage Museum paintings which were sold in the Soviet period are also a part of the collection. 

The exhibited collection belongs to the businessman Calauste Gulbenkain and there is a statue of his in the garden of the museum. This is the interesting part of the story because Gulbankain was one of the Ottoman Dhimmis who had Armenian heritage and was born in Uskudar, Istanbul. I was told that the origins of his family come from Van or Cappadoccia, and then they moved from Kayseri to Istanbul. He studied in Kadikoy, and after travelling to France, he studied geological engineering in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of his 20’s, he started a business, travelled to the Caucasus, and took part in the foundation of the Shell Oil Company. He was so influential that he had the nickname of “Mr. 5 percent,” which refers to the share that he would get from the sale of the company’s stocks when the oil reservoirs in the Caucasus were operated by a consortium which consisted of the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Turkey. Gulbankain, who acquired British citizenship later, moved to Portugal during the 2nd World War and spent his last 13 years there. His grave is in the Armenian Cemetery in London. Although this businessman who was known for his quietness avoided giving information about his life, his collection reflects both his life and a part of the world history he bore witness to. 

The work in the picture is a work of contemporary artist Doris Salcedo,Plegaria Muda.

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