Whatever reason brings you to Madrid, chances are you will not miss an opportunity to visit the Prado Museum – one of the greatest art institutions in the world, receiving almost 3 million visitors yearly. According to the official website, the museum’s present collection enlists about 8,000 paintings, 1 000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, plus countless historic documents and miscellaneous works of art. The current exhibition displays about 1,300 works, the rest remain in a storage room or are temporarily loaned to various galleries and museums all over the globe.
The museum was founded in 1819, during the reign of Ferdinand VII. His wife, Queen María Isabel de Braganza, had a passion for arts and after having visited the Louvre in Paris, she was determined to prove to the world that Spain’s cultural heritage is no less affluent.
The building was designed in 1785 by renowned Neoclassical architect Juan de Villanueva – originally, it was meant to house the Natural History Cabinet. However, it was never used as one – instead, it was opened as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture, and comprised 311 paintings only of Iberian Peninsula-born artists.
Much of the present-day collection was gathered under the Habsburgs and then the Bourbon monarchs. These include The Descent from the Cross by Roger van der Weyden, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest by El Greco, The Death of the Virgin by Mantegna, The Holy Family or The Pearl by Raphael, Equestrian Portrait of Charles V at Mühlberg by Titian, Christ washing the Disciples’ Feet by Tintoretto, Self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer, Las Meninas by Velázquez, The Three Graces by Rubens, and The Family of Charles IV by Goya.
Over the years, the Prado has benefited from numerous donations, purchases and the addition of other holdings. Of particular value are the Goya’s Black Paintings – a precious gift from Baron Frédéric Émile d’Erlanger; Pablo Bosch’s immense gathering of coins; Ramón de Errazu’s legacy of the 19th century paintings, and drawings and examples of decorative art, as well as Van der Weyden’s The Virgin and Child, from Pedro Fernández Durán’s collection. In 1872 – when the Museo de la Trinidad, primarily focused on religious art, closed down, the works of Jan van Eyck, El Greco and Goya, were transferred to Museo del Prado – the name was changed in 1868, when the museum was nationalized. Later in 1971, the collection of the 19th century art of the Museo de Arte Moderno was added up – although these were housed in the Casón del Buen Retiro, an annex to the main building, which was shut down in 1992 and its collections were permanently moved to the Museo Reina Sofía.
By the 1900s, the collection was so enormous that there was no more room left in the original building. Several enlargements took place and it wasn’t until in 2007 that the construction of the underground floors was completed and the Prado museum finally received the look we recognize today.
The ground floor holds a nice cafeteria that offers light meals, pastries and drinks; and a splendid museum shop with countless books on art and photography, stationary goods, post cards and various souvenirs.