Introduction to the Museo Nacional del Prado

King Charles III of Spain was to go down in history as the best mayor Madrid has ever had, thanks to his efforts to improve and modernize the capital of Spain in the 18th century. It was his idea to build a “City of Science” along what was already known as Paseo del Prado, an avenue that had been designed for carriage rides to the outskirts of Madrid. It would comprise a Faculty of Medicine with an adjacent hospital, a botanical garden, an astronomical observatory and a Natural Science Museum.

The Prado, which was originally the natural science museum, was designed by the architect Villanueva in the typical Neo-classical style of the period. It was rectangular in layout, with three main entrances - one in the centre and one at each end - and had a large hall inside with a beautiful glass roof providing plenty of light. Years later, King Ferdinand VII, influenced by his wife Isabel of Braganza, decided to turn it into an art gallery instead, and moved the Royal Collection there. The collection has grown over the years, leading the Prado museum to become one of the greatest art galleries in the world.

The palace of El Buen Retiro once stood behind the museum, but it was largely destroyed during the Peninsular War. Today, its gardens are Madrid’s most famous park, the Retiro. All that remains of the palace complex is the part that contained the room Known as the Salón de Reinos, which was one of the main halls of the building. King Philip IV commissioned Velazquez to decorate it with paintings that exalted the triumphs of the Spanish monarchy. There was a series of portraits of monarchs and twelve paintings of battles, amongst them the Surrender of Breda, which were later moved into the museum.

King Charles III enhanced the surrounding area, placing the fountains of Neptune, Apollo and Cybele along the Paseo del Prado. In the early 20th century, two great hotels, the Ritz and the Palace, were built nearby to cater for European high society. In the 1980s, the old Madrid General Hospital became the Reina Sofia Museum, one of the world’s top contemporary art museums. The Thyssen Museum, opposite the Prado, completes the area known today as Paseo de las Artes, and houses a major collection of historic and modern artworks.

The latest extension of the Prado Museum was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, and was carried out thanks to an agreement with the monastery of Los Jerónimos, which stands just behind the museum. The 15th -century monastery, which has hosted a number of Spanish royal weddings, including that of King Alfonso XIII, donated its Renaissance cloister in exchange for the restoration of the church. The new wing has provided exhibition space for some 1,150 of the Prado’s holdings of over 8,600 artworks.

(c) (R) 2013, MUSMon com S.L.
Text (a) Catalina Serrano Romero
English translation (a) Thisbe Burns