Portuguese History: A Journey Through Madeira’s “White Gold” Era

Wed, 07.02.2018
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

From Flanders To Madeira

The Portuguese history can be described in many way. For our language school in Lisbon, we think that the most impressive one could be: “DESLUMBRANTE”.

Nowadays, newspapers, books and all the possible media talk about globalization. In the beginning of the 15th Century, Portugal had been a pioneer in terms of globalization. The Portuguese began sailing across the seas to other countries, to discover if there was something else beyond their known world.

In 1418, the first Portuguese navigators landed in the island of Porto Santo, one of the islands of archipelago of Madeira. After a year, they started to explore the territory to find ways to exploit it. They found that the natural environment was very fertile. So, in the middle of the 15th Century, the Portuguese people introduced sugar cane farming to the island.

Sugar was considered a luxury good during in those days, and was referred to as “White Gold”. This innovation changed the perspective on medicine, and the eating habits of the people.

But, our question was: why should people exchange sugar for works of art?

This exhibition has showed us step by step, painting by painting, the importance of sugar for that period, and the importance of art. As time passed, the Portuguese people became more aware of their richness. The main goal to achieve was to establish a status quo of “Madeirenses” and to create an identity through religion.

Since the sugar was owned only by the local aristocracy and the Church, sugar was considered as a luxury good which only privilege people could afford. Meanwhile, Europe was undergoing the Renaissance era, where culture and art were considered as the most important thing.

Then, “Madeirenses” began to requested for works of art in exchange for sugar, in order to maintain their status quo and establish a real socio-economic structure of the Archipelago.

Our students really appreciated this unique lesson on Portuguese art history. Afterwards, we relaxed at the bar of Museu de Arte Antiga and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and Pastel de Nata. Don’t miss our next event, and be part of our community!

Discover Portuguese History through the paintings

Talking about Portuguese History, during the colonial period, Portugal decided to occupy the archipelago of Madeira and relocated slaves from Africa to these islands. They then, started to cultivate sugar cane and within a few years Madeira became the main exporter of sugar in Europe. This provided many business opportunities in the archipelago, which grew bigger and bigger. As a lot of merchants were interested in this business, the islands became an attractive center for all the European people and merchants.

So far, this explains why they are called the islands of the “White Gold”. But do you know what is special about this phenomenon? Instead of using coins as currency, sugar was traded with other goods. The products traded were everything, from working-tools, raw materials, to foods, such as olive oil and salt. But the most interesting thing is that when merchants came from the Flanders, the currency used was art.

So, do you want to have the chance to discover something unique about Portuguese history, while you are visiting Lisbon? This Wednesday, the 7th of February 2018, come and join us on a tour of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.

The exhibition

Portuguese HistoryHere, there will be an exhibition of a collection of main artworks from the “White Gold” period. Be part of this journey through the beauties of this wonderful period called Renaissance.


We will be accompanied by an expert who will guide us through the exhibition. They will explain briefly in English and then will go more in depth in Portuguese. In this way, you will be able to practice your listening and understanding in European Portuguese. Afterwards, we will enjoy a conversation over a cup of coffee in the Museum.

The meeting point is Praça do Comércio next to the statue at 2.00 pm. We will then take the tram altogether to get to Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, where the tour will start at 3.00 pm.

We can’t wait to see you there. Book now, you won’t regret it!