Some artists are so closely linked to a city's image that it is almost impossible not to mention them as you walk round their streets. This is certainly true in the case of renowned painter Francisco Goya (1746 - 1828) and the Spanish capital.
You can start anywhere you like: in front of one of his many canvases or in any of the corners that in one way or another are connected to him. We recommend you take this guide and plan a route of your own. You will, however, need more than one day to see all the places we suggest.
The Prado Museum holds the world's largest collection of Goya's work. A tour of its rooms enables you to appreciate how his style developed from his formative years in Zaragoza through to his death in Bordeaux. If you start with the Prado Museum, you can get a very good idea of who Goya was and what he represents for Spanish painting. Another option is to visit the museum once you have seen the city, so you can identify many of the locations depicted by the painter on his canvases. The royal portraits, such as The Family of Charles IV, inspired by Velázquez's Las Meninas; The Third of May 1808, a tribute to the Spanish heroes who resisted Napoleon's invasion; and The Black Paintings, removed from the walls of the legendary Quinta del Sordo house, where the artist retreated during his final years in Madrid, tormented by his deafness and by ghosts from the past, are just some of the works you should not miss seeing. A few years before Goya died, his paintings were already hanging on the walls of this museum, founded in 1819.
You can retrace Goya's first steps in Madrid with a visit to the Royal Tapestry Factory which, like other royal workshops (La Granja Royal Glass and Glassware Factory and the Buen Retiro Royal Porcelain Factory), was built for the purpose of supplying the royal palaces with decorative items that reflected the fashion of the period. The factory not only still produces and restores rugs, tapestries and appliqué work, but also has a small museum with displays about the various techniques involved. Soon after he arrived in Madrid and for some time after that, Goya worked on making the cartoons that served as a guide for the craftsmen. Apparently, many of them used to complain, as reproducing the artist's flowing brushstrokes into stitches was an incredibly complex task. Goya also gradually started including controversial scenes loaded with social critique, such as the famous Injured Mason, a cartoon that can be seen today in the Prado Museum. The tapestry was destined for El Pardo Royal Palace, where it served as a reminder to Charles III that men poorer than himself faced the harsh reality of a lifetime of hard work.
The unexpected death of Charles III in 1788 prevented Goya from finishing the series, and although other tapestries by the artist hung on the palace walls, only a few remain in their original location. However, visiting El Pardo Royal Palace is highly recommended for all lovers of painting. The palace stands in the middle of a large area of grassland that stretches from the outskirts of the city to the mountain range beyond. For centuries it was a favourite hunting ground for Spanish monarchs and this means it is one of the places that features most often in works by court painters. Goya, like Velázquez, was also painter to the King.
Although building work on Madrid's Royal Palace was started during the reign of Philip V, the first monarchs to live here were Charles III and Charles IV, both of whom were Goya's patrons. In fact, in 1789, the artist became court painter to the latter. The Royal Palace still preserves some interesting paintings by him, but its main attraction is that it enables you to get a very clear insight into the atmosphere in which Goya would have been immersed and the cultural context within which he would have worked. At that time, this spectacular building, raised on the spot where the former Hapsburg Castle once stood, was a symbol of the Bourbon dynasty. It appears in some of Goya's paintings, such as The Meadow of San Isidro, the sketch for a tapestry cartoon that also hangs in the Prado Museum.
Every 15th of May, San Isidro day, the Pradera de San Isidro Park is still the scene of the pilgrimage painted by Francisco de Goya in 1788. From here you get wide open views over the city, but if you compare it with the painting you will find many new buildings. In addition to the houses that reach down to the banks of the Manzanares River, you can see the Cuatro Torres Business Area, the buildings in Plaza de España, the Telefónica Building and La Almudena Cathedral. The Royal Palace is still in the same place, as is the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, in La Latina district, another essential landmark on this tour. In 1783, Goya painted the canvas entitled St Bernardino of Siena preaching to Alfonso V of Aragon, which supposedly includes a self-portrait of the artist himself.
One of Goya's finest self-portraits is in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In the 18th century, this institution, founded by King Fernando VI, was responsible for spreading a new style that was more in keeping with the classic trend sweeping across the rest of Europe. All self-respecting artists chose to study here and there was no greater reward than to be invested as a member of the academy. Goya was Director of Painting here from 1785. Today, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts boasts an interesting museum of painting located in the Goyeneche Palace and shares its headquarters with the National Printmakers, founded in 1789 and devoted to preserving, promoting and publicising graphic arts. One of its greatest treasures is undoubtedly the set of copper plates used for making Goya's print series, including Los Caprichos and The Disasters of War. If you compare the artist's work with that of his academic contemporaries, you will see that his style was always characterised by great naturalism of form and vividly imaginative content, far from the neo-classic style followed by other artists of the same period.
It has been said that Goya was an immediate precursor to Romanticism. His ability to express emotions and the way he captured his own inner world, such key features of his work, make him one of the most important figures of modern European painting. Because of this, as might be expected, the Museum of Romanticism, a former palace that recreates 19th century everyday life, has a wonderful San Gregorio Magno by Goya in the chapel and enables you to appreciate the impact of his style on 19th century Spanish art through the work of other painters.
In fact, throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, Goya became a favourite with collectors like José Lázaro Galdiano, founder of prestigious publishing house La España Moderna, which produced the first translation into Spanish of a text by Nietzsche. A passionate admirer of the Aragon-born painter's work, this collector not only acquired his canvases, but also purchased a letter in Goya's own handwriting addressed to Martín Zapater, a close friend of his. This letter is currently held in the library at the Lázaro Galdiano Foundation and is displayed from time to time. The Parque Florido Palace, the house-museum where José Lázaro lived and where his collection is displayed today, devotes a room to Goya where you can see some of his most significant works, including The Witches and The Witches Sabbath, two paintings that Goya was commissioned to produce by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna for their residence, El Capricho Palace.
You can still enjoy this palace today. Standing on the outskirts of the city, it was a meeting place for many 18th century intellectuals invited by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna to discuss art, politics, religion and the country's future. A short time later, Spain was invaded by the French and governed by Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother. Compared to the rigid lines of Renaissance gardens, El Capricho is more picturesque. Designed by Jean Baptiste Mulot, who had previously worked at the Petit Trianon in Versailles, its parterres feature mounds, winding channels and follies, and small architectural fantasies reminiscent of rural, faraway and exotic landscapes. Goya also loved this place and it is not difficult to imagine him strolling around El Capricho, which in its heyday also had a private bullring.
The art of bullfighting, as we know it today, was recorded in the 18th century. Goya depicted traditional festivals and bullfights in many of his prints. At that time, Madrid had a bullring alongside Puerta de Alcalá, which has since disappeared. Anyone interested in exploring this topic can go to the Plaza Monumental de las Ventas, where there is a museum on the history of corridas. A curious fact: the kind of bullfights inspired by Goya's paintings are known as "Goyescas". They are only held on special occasions and are characterised by the amazing outfits worn by the matadors, similar to the suits you can see in many of the artist's pictures.
Goya said that his great masters were Rembrandt, Velázquez and Nature, making him a champion of leading Baroque artists in the late 18th century, a time when many were rejecting the exaggerations of an art that they regarded as being old-fashioned. His free spirit, unfettered by fashions, is clearly reflecte in works such as the frescoes in San Antonio de la Florida Chapel, in which the figures seem to gaze out of the dome onto the church in a beautifully executed work of trompe l'oeil. Years later, in 1919, Goya's remains were moved to this chapel, which became a monument to the artist.
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Considered to be one of the finest art galleries in the world. In addition to Goya, other artists well represented in its collection include Velázquez and El Greco.
Nowadays, the Royal Tapestry Factory focuses its activities on the restoration of tapestries, rugs and heraldic wall hangings as well as bringing traditional craft techniques to a wider public.
The palace is located in an attractive natural landscape, 8 kilometres from the city centre.
The palace was built in the early 18th century by Italian architects Juan Bautista Sachetti and Filippo Juvara.
Based on its diameter, the dome is the third largest of all Christian churches.
There are several Goya paintings in its museum collection, including a portrait of Godoy, the prime minister during the time of Charles IV, and a painting of the Burial of the Sardine.
We highly recommend a visit to the museum shop and its café, which has windows overlooking a lovely nineteenth-century garden.
A painting of St. Jerome by Bosch, the Witches' Sabbath by Goya and a pot from the ancient mythical region of Tartessos are to be found amongst its treasures.
El Capricho Park opens on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays only. Many consider this to be one of Madrid's best kept secrets.
Bullfighting followers regard this bullring to be the most important in the world.
Inside the dome Goya painted a multitude of popular characters who encircle the onlooker.