Museo del Prado

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2015-06-26 10:41:31

The Museo del Prado, located in Madrid, is the national Spanish museum of art and home to the world’s finest collection of Spanish old master paintings. It also features a notable collection of work from other schools of European art from the 12th to the early 19th century, along with important collections of sculpture, drawings, prints, coins, medals and decorative art.

In all, the museum’s collections total over 24,000 works with around 7,600 paintings, 8,200 drawings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, 1,000 coins and medals and almost 2,000 decorative objects. In 2010 it welcomed just over 2.7 million visitors, making it one of the 10 most popular art museums in the world and the most visited in Spain. The museum is currently under the directorship of Miguel Zugaza, former director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao.

History and foundation

The Prado building was designed by the architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785, and was originally conceived as the home of King Charles III’s natural science collection. It was completed in 1819 during the reign of King Ferdinand VII, who opened it to the public as the new Royal Museum of Painting that year. The original collection was solely devoted to Spanish painting and included 311 paintings from the royal collection, although at that time the Museum housed 1,510 works from the various royal residences including pieces from other schools. In 1868 the museum was nationalised and renamed the "Museo del Prado".

Along with the royal collection, a large number of works have been acquired from various sources. The collection of the now-closed Museo del la Trinidad was added in 1872, and the majority of the Prado’s 19th century paintings were donated by the Museo de Arte Moderno when it too closed in 1972. The museum has also benefitted from a number of important donations and bequests over the years, along with its numerous purchases.

The 20th century has seen a number of extensions and enlargements to house the ever-growing collections, with the first in 1918. Since then the building has also seen the additions of two pavilions along with the incorporation of two nearby buildings, the Casón del Buen Retiro and the Salon de Reinos.

Departments and collections

The Museo del Prado has a number of different collections but its primary focus is on paintings. This collection can be split into seven areas by country. They are:

Spanish painting

The Museo del Prado has the largest and most important collection of Spanish painting in the world, numbering more than 4,800 paintings and dating from the Romanesque period to the 19th century. This internationally-renowned collection includes masterpieces by artists such as Bartolomé Bermejo, Pedro Berruguete, Sánchez Coello, El Greco, Ribera, Zurbarán, Murillo, Alonso Cano, Velázquez, Goya, Vicente López, Fortuny, Carlos de Haes, the Madrazo, Rosales and Sorolla.

Italian painting

In terms of quality and quantity the Prado’s collection of Italian paintings, numbering more than 1,000 works, is second only to its Spanish holdings. Many of these works were formerly in the royal collection and include paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Raphael, Antonello da Messina and Corrado Giaquinto.

Flemish painting

The Flemish school is well represented with more than 1,000 works dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. It includes work by artists such as Hieronymous Bosch, Joachim Patinir, Pieter Bruegel and Anthonis Mor. It also features a large collection of work by Reubens and his followers Van Dyck and Jordaens.

French painting

The French School is the fourth best represented in the Prado and offers an incomplete but highly interesting overview of French paintings from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. It contains work commissioned by Philip IV by artists such as Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorraine, the leading French, classicising painters, along with pieces by Michel-Ange Houasse, Jean Ranc and Louis-Michel van Loo.

German painting

Although small in comparison, the German collection contains various key works by Albrecht Dürer, the most important German artist of his period. In addition, the German School collection includes 18th-century paintings by Anton Rafael Mengs, Court Painter to Charles III and another leading name in German art.

Dutch painting

The Museo del Prado collection contains almost 200 paintings of the 17th-century Dutch School. It lacks works by the most important artists such as Vermeer and Frans Hals but taken together this group offers an overview of the different trends within this school.

British painting

The collection of British works is small, due to political conflicts between the two nations from the 16th to the 20th centuries. However, the collection contains works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney and Hoppner, along with the portraitist Thomas Lawrence.

Notable exhibits

The museum is home to the world’s largest collection of paintings by Diego Velázquez, including his famous ‘Las Meninas’ and ‘The Feast of Bacchus’. It also features masterpieces such as as ‘The Annunciation’ by Fra Angelico, ‘Christ washing the Disciples’ Feet’ by Tintoretto, ‘The Descent from the Cross’ by Rogier van der Weyden and ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymous Bosch.

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