Museo Nacional del Prado


Datos principales

The Prado
Paseo del Prado S/N, 28014. Madrid
+34 913 30 28 00


The Museo del Prado was built in 1785 during the reign of Charles III. The project formed part of an ambitious plan of scientific modernisation, designed to suit the enlightened king and his cabinet of reformist intellectuals and artists. Originally it was designed to be a natural history museum, not an art gallery, forming part of a complex which included the Observatory and the Botanical Gardens, which can still be visited today. The entire complex was to be set in the Buen Retiro Gardens and included the Royal Palace built by Philip IV. The original project would easily outdo any current plan for a cultural complex. The Prado building was conceived as a backdrop to the Paseo del Prado. The boulevard was a meeting place for the nobility and the bourgeoisie, where carriages, good manners and clothes were paraded. It was the centre for flirting, courting and gossip, a theme exploited by [Goya#PINTOR#2085] in his engravings. Therefore, it was the best place in Madrid for the new project, where the whole city would be able to contemplate the architectural renewal programme proposed by the enlightened circle of the Court. The long building is completely symmetrical and is divided into five sections: two rotundas at each end, two Venetian galleries full of windows and a central section where the main façade is located. The building's aesthetic uniformity is due to the enormous colonnade that covers the outer walls from one end to the other. Balance, orthogonal angles, the alternation of light and dark, as well as the synthesis of virtues and art in the sculptures that adorn the main façade represent the essence of Neoclassicism, a style which aimed to recover moral and constructional balance after the supposed exuberant decadence of the [Baroque#ESTILOS#5]. The Prado also introduced important aspects of town planning, such as the fact that it blends in perfectly with its surroundings: the church of los Jerónimos, the wide French style boulevards and the fountains and gardens which the Venetian galleries overlook. The French invasion took place while the construction works of the Science Museum were being completed (it was finished in 1811). This invasion had a major impact on the building's future because the king, Joseph Bonaparte - whose important role in Madrid's town planning has never been recognised - announced in a royal decree his wish to found a museum of art. His drive was a result of the impulse given to this matter during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. Originally the museum was going to be housed in the Buenavista Palace and later the palace of Godoy was proposed. However, before a collection that was big enough to form the nucleus of the museum could be brought together, the French were expelled from Spain and Ferdinand VII regained his throne. Ferdinand, despite his hate of all things French, felt that bringing together the royal collections in a gallery was an excellent idea. Villanueva's wonderful building was proposed as the location for the gallery and in 1819 the Museo del Prado was officially opened. The gallery was different to other European museums, with the exception of the Louvre, in that one of its most important functions was the teaching of the history of art. Consequently, in accordance with the 1819 regulations, the museum was closed one day a week for cleaning, another day it was open to the public and the other five days access was restricted to copyists and scholars. During the 1820s the main body of the royal collections were transferred to the Prado. The collection was enlarged by a political measure: in 1835 Mendizábal passed a law breaking up the convents and confiscating much of the Church's property. To this day the loss of some works of art, paintings and sculptures has never been resolved. In the face of the organised pillaging that took place, it was decided that everything that could be saved should be transferred to the convent of the Trinidad in Madrid. Delegates were sent to the provinces to catalogue Spain's heritage, but more often than not these delegates acted in their own interest and the disappearances continued at an alarming pace. Eventually everything that had been brought together in the convent of the Trinidad was moved to the Prado in 1870, along with the collection of tapestry cartoons by Goya, up until then housed in the Royal Palace. Before this transfer the Prado's collections had already been enriched with the collections from the [Escorial monastery#MONUMENTOS#9] which were moved because of the threat of civil war in 1838. Since then copies of the original paintings have been on display in the Escorial. Most of the copies were painted in the 16th and 17th centuries by artists such as Michiel van Coxcie, which meant the monastery did not lose its artistic value. As the Prado's collections grew, new rooms were inaugurated to house these additions. The most interesting of these were Goya's "Black Paintings", donated by the Baron d'Erlanger in 1881, 200 canvases belonging to the Duchess of Pastrana given to the museum in 1889, the legacy of Don Pablo Bosch in 1915, the bequest of Don Fernández Durán in 1930 and that of Don Francisco Cambó in 1940. The immense value of the Prado's collections has meant it has been the object of various robberies and attacks over its history. These have gone from the indiscriminate pillaging of the royal collections by French troops during the Napoleonic invasion to the white-collar robbery of some of the extremely valuable jewels of the Tesoro del Delfín (the Dauphin Treasure) in 1919. The last time the museum was the object of attack was in 1995 when various individuals set fire to one of the reinforced doors along one of the side façades. The museum was also placed in a somewhat precarious position during the [Spanish Civil War#CONTEXTOS#20] because the Republican defenders of the city put the most valuable works of art from nearby areas under threat from the rebels in the museum's storerooms. These art works came from the Escorial, churches in the surrounding areas of Madrid, various convents, the royal palaces that were stuck between the frontlines and so on. During the conflict, between 1936 and 1939 the museum's curator was Pablo Picasso, who with the assistance of an international committee, decided to evacuate some of the most important paintings to France. The paintings were transferred in lorries to Valencia and Catalonia and then on to France. They included Titian's [Charles V as the Victor of Mühlberg#CUADROS#18] and Goya's Executions and many more. At the end of the war the paintings were all returned and an intensive restoration programme of those canvases that had been damaged was begun. This was the first time many of the paintings were painstakingly analysed and as a result some fascinating secrets were revealed. To give just one example today we know that the brilliance of the colours of [El Greco's#PINTOR#2106] work and its extraordinary resistance to an attack of fungus - which the experts initially feared would destroy it - is the result of his using pigments mixed with honey, which makes the colours durable and gives them their characteristic enamelled appearance. From the very beginning the Prado was conceived as a gallery of the history of western art, from the Middle Ages to the present day. In later years 19th and 20th century art was housed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, one of the few rooms that made up the old Buen Retiro Palace to survive. This division was due to reasons of space and to graphically differentiate the split between contemporary art and earlier art. This led Picasso to donate his Guernica to the Prado, to provide a kind of conclusion to this history of European art and it became one of the museum's most popular exhibits. However, the Ministry of Culture decided to move the masterpiece to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte "Reina Sofía" in 1994, along with the rest of the paintings from the 20th century, such as those by Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris. Today the Prado is organised chronologically from the 12th to the 19th century. The main groups are the Spanish school, the Italian school, the Flemish school and to a lesser extent the Dutch, French and British schools. The nucleus of the Spanish paintings has two main origins. The first important group of paintings came from the royal collections and were painted by the court painters the monarchs kept permanently at their side and whose paintings enriched their palaces and leisure residences. Therefore, this aspect of Spanish painting is linked to the characters and activities of the court. The best examples are Velázquez's oeuvre and the commissions by Philip IV to Zurbarán, Maíno and others for the decoration of the Buen Retiro Palace. The second important group of Spanish painting is of a religious type and was commissioned by the Church or private individuals, rather than by the monarchy. Almost all the El Grecos that are in the Prado today are religious works, as are the Murillos and the oldest panels which date back to the late Gothic period. These panels are mostly Castilian and Valencian because late Gothic and early Renaissance works from Andalusia are not widely represented in the Prado. These religious paintings, if they were not accumulated by individuals from the Court or by the kings and queens over the centuries, owe their place in the Prado to the transfer of the collections of the old Museo de la Trinidad to the Prado. The kings and queens, their favourites, ambassadors and those close to them played a vital role in gathering together the foreign collections, especially the two biggest groups: the Flemish and Italian schools. Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, played a vital role in starting off these collections. From the Middle Ages Spain had established close commercial links with the Flemish provinces, through the trade of wool and other primary materials. Tapestries and wood panels were imported on a massive scale from Flanders and as a result Spain has one of the most important collections of Flemish tapestry in the world, most of which can be admired in the galleries of the Royal Palace. Ferdinand and Isabella were not only great collectors, they also established a network of marital alliances with England and Flanders, with a view to forming a link with the powerful Habsburg dynasty. Their aims were fulfilled when their grandson [Charles I#PERSONAS#34] of Spain became the Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V. Charles V was the first king who realised the enormous potential of art as an instrument of propaganda and prestige. The bases of the Prado's foreign collections were laid unknowingly by Charles V. His personal favourite was Titian, but Italian and Flemish artists in general were very highly valued in Spain. The Emperor's son, [Philip II#PERSONAS#25], kept up his father's tradition, with wider personal tastes, and influenced in Spain's inclination for the Venetian art of Giorgione, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian himself and so on in coming centuries. The king also declared himself to be a great admirer of the Flemish painting of Anthonis Mor, Bosch Coxcie, Van der Weyden and many others. Other kings, such as [Philip III#PERSONAS#20], did not collect works of art personally but were given valuable gifts by their allies. Philip IV played an important role in enlarging the royal art collections. When Charles I was executed during the English Civil War, Philip IV sent his agents to obtain the best pieces from Charles' collection, auctioned after his death. When Cromwell was overthrown and the monarchy restored, Philip IV refused to listen to the appeals made by the ambassadors for the return of the goods acquired in the auction. Another of Philip's exploits was the construction of the Buen Retiro Palace, for the decoration of which he summoned the most important painters from Spain and abroad. During the 17th century the royal ambassadors played an important role in adding more works to the collections, such as Rubens who flooded the Spanish Court with his work and also the Italian [Luca Giordano#PINTOR#2048]. Another important figure in the Prado's foreign collections was Philip V, the first Spanish king from the house of Bourbon. His most important contribution was the appearance of French painters in the Court, summoned by the Bourbon family. Ranc, Mignard, Rigaud, Lorrain, Poussin were just a few French artists who worked in Spain. Charles III, another Bourbon but this time of Italian origin, imported great works by Tiepolo and Mengs, as well as by [Rembrandt#PINTOR#3104] and Tintoretto. Charles IV was Goya's patron and after the interval of the Spanish War of Independence, Ferdinand VII became the instigator of the Museo del Prado. The collections have slowly been consolidated over time, especially during Madrazo's period as curator and since the setting up of the Patronage of the Museum. This has led to certain gaps in the collections being filled, such as the series of British paintings, some early Italian works and moments in Spanish art that previously were not represented. The Museo del Prado is still being enriched daily with the acquisition of universally important paintings that reflect our artist heritage. The museum is visited every year by hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists and Spaniards who wish to see works by the geniuses of European art, a mission which is made easier by the triangle of museums formed by the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen Bornemisza.

Esquema relacional

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