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Great art galleries; Museo del Prado

Spain’s national art gallery, and one of the great art galleries of the world, the Museo del Prado is located in Madrid. It houses one of the most outstanding collections of European art covering the 1300s through to the early modern art period, and an unsurpassed collection of Spanish art. It was opened in 1819 to display pieces owned by the Spanish Crown and to provide a showcase of great Spanish art; the equal of any other European art movement even though it was often overshadowed.

The royal collection, which was rapidly expanded under successive monarchs, still forms the heart of the museum, and includes some incredible artworks and prints, which ultimately were all handed over to the people of Spain when the museum was nationalised in 1868. Continuing to expand the collection, the building itself required expansion in 1918 to accommodate the demand for more of the original artworks to be on display. That process has continued up to the present day with new and expanded spaces added in 1998 and 2007, with further works planned very soon.

Located close to the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza art museum in central Madrid, the three form the Golden Triangle of Art, which was recently made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A unique national art collection rich in masterpiece artworks

The collection at the Museo del Prado includes 7600 paintings, 8200 drawings, 4800 art prints, and 1000 sculptures, many of which are masterpieces. Original artworks include The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, Las Meninas by Velazquez, The Third of May by Francisco Goya, The Descent from the Cross by van der Weyden, and other artists including El Greco, Rubens, Titian, Mantegna, Raphael, Tintoretto, Angelico, Flandes, Ribera, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, and Durer.

Directors of the museum have pursued an unusual acquisition strategy, tending to focus on their favourite artists, which means the collection offers phenomenal coverage of a few artists, but an overall collection with some significant gaps in it. Fans of Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velazquez, and Goya won’t find another art gallery in the world with as much of their work available to display.

Broadly covering Spanish, Italian, French, and Flemish painting up until the 1800s, and then a wider collection of early modern art, there is also a regular program of special and temporary exhibitions. These tend to focus on the life’s work of individual artists, or specific themes, such as Reflections of the Cosmos, looking at how our understanding of space affected the world of art.

Museo del Prado is amongst the great art galleries

Europe is overflowing with excellent national galleries covering art from the 1300s to the 1900s, and they all have some remarkable pieces to show. Madrid may sometimes be overlooked alongside the art galleries of France, Italy, and London, which all focus on showing every little movement and moment in art, but the Museo has found an interesting niche. It’s representation of Spanish artists is exceptional, as would be expected, but it also succeeds by virtue of avoiding an attempt to show all of art, in favour of focusing on individual artists.

Often referred to as a museum of artists rather than art, the gallery holds more than 100 pieces by many individuals, and can provide greater insights into their complete career, and the evolutions that artists go through during their life, than any other gallery. And it seems to work; pre Pandemic, the Museo del Prado attracted around 3 million visitors every year, putting it amongst the popular in the world. Hugely admired and valued within Spain, it is certainly considered amongst the ten most important art galleries in the world.

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