Madeira's top art collection is housed within the former 16th-century bishop's palace, which dominates either side of Praça do Município. Purchased using the proceeds of Madeira's sugar trade, the highlights in the collection include the priceless bits of Flemish art commissioned by wealthy Madeiran merchants and landowners with regards to quintas – many of these figures even produce a pop-up appearance inside the pictures themselves. In the 1950s it had been decided to gather all religious art in a single for safekeeping.
The first rooms you enter support the museum's mysterious silver collection, 1000s of pieces small and big gleaming magically against dark backgrounds. Solid silver crucifixes, monstrances, huge plates and teapots originate from across the island but mainly in the Sé, giving an indication in the wealth commanded through the world's largest ever diocese (all Portugal's overseas territories). The highlight could be the late-Gothic silver processional cross on the Sé, a really magnificent bit of 16th-century craftsmanship commissioned by none other than King Manuel I.
The museum's middle section can be a procession of 16th- and 17th-century religious oils, handless Gothic statuary and baroque sculpture which once graced Madeira's quintas and churches, though lots of what is on display is through the once very wealthy Convento de Santa Clara. Look out for the almost life-size sculpture with the last supper, a camp-looking Judas holding a bag of money, as well as the remarkably well-preserved 17th-century statue of Izabel Rainha de Portugal.
Saving the most beneficial till last, the undeniable high point from the collection will be the four rooms of Flemish masters about the first floor. Van Cleve's Ascension on the Virgin, Triptych on the Incarnation and Triptych of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew dominate one room while Provoost's Saint Mary Magdalene from your Church of Madalena do Mar and Morrison's Nativity another. Pieter Coeck van Aalst is represented by his impressive Calvary, Jesus hoisted high above a lamenting crowd.