The Prado Museum is the crown jewel of one of the capital’s most visited tourist itineraries: the Paseo del Arte (Art Walk). Its walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Its collection comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, so we recommend you decide what you want to see before stepping into the museum.
The Prado Museum houses the most comprehensive collection of Spanish painting in the world. Start your visit in the 11th century, contemplating the Mozarabic murals from the Church of San Baudelio de Berlanga. Then move on to the canvases painted by Bartolomé Bermejo, Pedro Berruguete, Juan de Juanes or Luis de Morales to trace a timeline from Spanish-Flemish Gothic painting to the Renaissance. The galleries devoted to El Greco display some of his most notable works such as The Knight with his Hand on his Breast and The Holy Trinity.
The Spanish Golden Age is represented through works by Ribera, Zurbarán and Murillo, which explain the context that triggered Velázquez's work. His most important paintings Las Meninas and The Seamstresses are also on display here. Featuring works from the 18th and 19th centuries, the Goya galleries include the tapestry cartoons he created for the Royal Tapestry Factory, to the Black Paintings he painted on the walls of his house La Quinta del Sordo (Deaf-Man's Villa). You will also find rooms dedicated to 19th century art, which include works by Fortuny, Federico and Raimundo Madrazo and Sorolla.
The shift from Medieval art to the Renaissance could not be explained without Italian painting, which also had a very strong influence on Spanish Baroque art. The most notable works from the Quattrocento (14th century) are Fra Angelico's Annunciation, the chest with the story of Nastagio degli Onesti by Botticelli, Mantegna's The Death of the Virgin and Antonello da Messina's The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel. Several of Raphael's virgins justify the classicist splendour of the Cinquecento (15th century), and the canvases by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese -the stars of the Venetian school- are some of the Prado Museum's most acclaimed treasures. The different paths travelled by Italian Baroque art are clearly visible in artworks by& Caravaggio, Guido Reni and Annibale Carracci.
The Flemish school is very well represented thanks to the political ties between the Spanish monarchy and Flanders. The Prado Museum houses works that range from relevant artworks by the primitive Flemish masters, like Van der Weyden's The Descent from the Cross and Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, which Phillip II collected obsessively, to paintings made during the Baroque splendour of the Brussels Court, with Rubens, the Brueghel Family, Jordaens and Teniers topping the list of the most abundant authors in the Prado. French, Dutch and German painting is also present in the museum's collection. Dürer, Claude Lorrain, Rembrandt and Watteau are some of the other unmissable artists. Albeit less famous, the galleries devoted to sculpture and decorative arts are very interesting. Most notably, the Roman statues, the Dauphin's Treasure - a dinner set inherited by Philip V - and artworks by the Leonis commissioned by Philip II and Charles V.
The Museum's History
The Prado Museum opened for the first time on November 10, 1819. Thanks to the determination of Isabella of Braganza, married to King Ferdinand VII, the building that Juan de Villanueva had initially designed to house the Natural History Cabinet finally accommodated an important part of the royal collections. Years of private donations and acquisitions enlarged the museum's collection.
During the Spanish Civil War, the artworks were protected against possible bombings by sacks of sand and were stored in the basement of the museum. Then, following the recommendations of the League of Nations, the collection was taken first to Valencia and then to Geneva, although the paintings were quickly returned to Madrid when the Second World War broke out.
The former Villanueva building accommodates a good part of the painting, sculpture and decorative arts collections. Right behind it, around the Cloister of Los Jerónimos, architect Rafael Moneo constructed a series of galleries that accommodate temporary exhibitions, restoration workshops, an auditorium, a café, a restaurant and offices. El Casón del Buen Retiro, once the dance hall of the former Palace of El Buen Retiro, is also part of the museum. The building currently accommodates a library and a reading room for researchers.