The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is one of the most important national museums, for its unique collection - the Azulejo (tile), an artistic expression which diferenciates the Portuguese culture, and 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).
After the interventions of José Maria Nepomuceno and Liberato Telles, the buildings of the Convent and Church of Madre de Deus were object, throughout the times, of several reparation works and alteration of the spaces, always as an integrating part of D. Maria Pia Shelter. Tile panels from other spaces were continuously carried and stocked in the Convent, initially destined to the space decoration but they ended stored in boxes.
Then ocurred the idea of putting under the tutelage of Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art) several monuments aiming its patrimonial safeguard. So, it was established, as seen on a letter to its director, João Couto, dated from December 15th, 1954, that the Church and chambers of Madre de Deus, in Xabregas, should be considered as annexes of Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.
With the objective of making an exhibition commemorating the 500 hundred years of Queen D. Leonor birth, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation bore the expenses of the great restoration works, namely those of Church of Madre de Deus cloister and paintings.
On 1957 the preparatory works began and it was decided to classify the entire set as National Monument and, by a ministerial dispatch homologated on November 12th, 1957, it was determined its integration on Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, with specific political orientations for the safeguard of the patrimony.
When, on January 7th, 1958 the exhibition closed, the buildings were given to the tutelage of that museum, raising immediately the question of using the spaces for installing a Tile Museum.
| The transfer of tiles to Madre de Deus was made, being the person in charge of the organisation and putting together, João Miguel dos Santos Simões, effective voter of National Academy of Fine Arts, responsible by Brigade of Studies on Tile Making of Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian and aide-curator of Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga.
In 1965, General Director of High Schooling and Fine Arts, after concluding he was going to study the possibility of opening the part of the Museum considered mounted to public, thought indispensable to create certain conditions for its concretisation.
On a note from December 12th, 1967, Santos Simões refers the exhibition that happened on September 30st, about Museu do Azulejo, informing that even if it could be open to public, as it was, it will be convenient to hurry the small reparation works and finishing details.
On February 3rd, 1971, Santos Simões, in a letter addressed to the director of Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, solicits the need of an urgent reunion among all the institutions intervening on Madre de Deus Convent/Museu do Azulejo, in order to review the problem of its imperious inauguration. As a way of continuing the tasks initiated by Santos Simões, Rafael Salinas Calado was invited, in 1973, by Maria José Mendonça, to take care of the Ceramic Section of Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, placed since 1959 in former Madre de Deus Convent.
The Decree-Law nº 404/80 of September 26th gives to Museu do Azulejo the emancipation, making it National and autonomous regarding Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, of which it was an annexe since December 18th, 1965.