Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n
Metro: Banco de España / Atocha
Zone: Las Cortes
Map: Quadrant L-13 on the detailed maps, or see 7 on the center zones overview map
Without any doubt, this the Prado is one of the world's most important museums since it opened in 1819 (when it became one of the world's first public art galleries). This massive collection is a testament to the centuries of devotion to art accumulation by the Spanish monarchy and church and to the attitudes prevalent in the age of enlightenment when the Prado was conceived.
The building was designed by the neo-classic architect Juan de Villanueva, and is located on the Paseo del Prado, in one of Madrid's most attractive areas. When it was originally built in the late 1700's, it was intended as the Natural Sciences museum. Later, Joseph Bonapart, brother of Napoleon, re-designated it as an art museum so that when it opened in 1819 under Fernando VII it became home to the Royal art collection.
The Prado contains over 9.000 works, mainly paintings, of which only about 1500 can be displayed at any one time. There is space in the museum dedicated to displaying on a rotational basis those works which are not on permanent exhibition. There are also conferences and courses in which archived works are often brought out. (information about these courses can be obtained from the Spanish ministry for culture.)
The Royal collection —which constitutes the core of the museum's works— was begun by Queen Isabel La Católica in the 1500's and was continued by her successors until the XIX century. In 1734 a large part of the collection was destroyed by a fire at El Alcazar, the then Royal Palace located on the site of the current Palacio Real. Despite this, the collection is still formidable even if it reflects the tastes of the monarchy. It includes excellent representations from the Flemish School, the sixteenth century Italian and of course the Spanish schools from the Baroque schools onwards. Examples from the English and Dutch Protestant schools are notably absent. There is also a large collection of religious art, acquired from the churches which were shut in 1830.
To name just some of the artists represented in the Prado: Brueghel, Van der Weyden, Van Dyck, El Bosco, Durero, Rembrandt, Rubens, Fra Angélico, Mantegna, Botticelli, Bronzino, Rafael, Tiziano, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velazquez, Murillo, Ribera, Goya, ...
Below we have given what we hope is a representative list of artists, along with some of their most important works, mainly for those who don't have time for a more complete visit. Since the museum does not have a very clear layout, we have not tried to explain how to find the various paintings listed below. Instead we recommend using the free guide/map provided at the entrance, or we would encourage you to ask any of the staff roaming about.
Velazquez: Most of his major works are here. Not to be missed are Las Meninas (the Maids of Honour), Las Hilanderas (the spinners) and La Rendición de Breda (the Surrender of Breda). Some help in understanding these complex paintings can be obtained from the museum guide (1st floor).
El Greco: One can never help but be amazed at how 'modern' the works of this 16th century artist appear. Indeed his genius was not fully recognised until long after his death. Painters from the avant-garde of this century are among those responsible from bringing him to the forefront of Spanish art. Recommended are Pentecostés and La adoración de los Reyes Magos (The adoration of the wise-men) on the 1st floor.
The Italian rooms: While there are only a few works from the first renaissance, those that are here are worth seeing. The XVI century is better represented, with many beautiful paintings, in particular by Tiziano and Tintoretto (1st floor).
The Flemish rooms: Be sure not to leave the Prado without seeing El Bosco's (Hieronymus Bosch) strange and magical Garden of Earthly Delights, which hung in King Philip II's bedroom in El Escorial and El descendimiento de la Cruz (The descent from the cross) by Van der Weyden (Ground floor).
Goya: If you're not familiar with Goya, you'll be astounded at his versatility. Beginning with his tapestry paintings, which so beautifully capture the day-to-day activities of the royals, through to his superb portraits of the aristocrats, royalty and intellectuals of his time, some of which are painted with scathing irony, others filled with admiration, including the famous clothed and nude Majas. Then onto his works dealing with the war of independence, where you must be sure not to miss the Third of May, and finally down to the ground floor to his Black Paintings, which are a fascinating combination of passion and terror (1st and Ground floor).
The nearby Casón del Buen Retiro, King Felipe IV's summer residence, houses Spanish paintings from the XIX century. These consist largely of landscapes, realism and historical painting. If you care to visit, there are some gems to be found here. Entry is included in the admission price to the Prado, but be sure to remember to retain your ticket.
After finishing, we highly recommend a visit to one of the nearby parks, the The Botanical Gardens or the El Retiro park, which will no doubt provide both your feet and eyes with a well-needed rest.