Web ReidsGuides

Museo del Prado

The Prado is one of the world's greatest art galleries

One of the world's greatest painting galleries, easily up there with the Louvre, Uffizi, London's National Gallery, Vatican, or Metropolitan—just not as well known (largely due to Spain's largely falling off the tourism radar during the decades of Franco's rule). There are more than 7,000 works on display, so I wouldn't advise trying to see the Prado all at once.

The Prado covers art from the 12th through the 18th centuries, and the list of masterpieces is endless, ranging from Fra' Angelico's Annunciation (1430) to Rubens’ late, fleshy Three Graces (1739). The walls overfloweth with many more works by Italian, Dutch, Flemish, French, and of course Spanish painters. Break up your visit by spending most of one day here, and at least half of another. Even if you're in Spain just for a day, pass at least three hours inside.

Free in the evening
The Prado museums are admission free from 6pm to 8pm (from 5pm on Sundays). The are also free to anyone under the age of 18, and to all E.U. citizens under 25 or over 65. (Non-E.U. students under 25 and pensioners over 60 get 50% off.)
The collection is strongest, as you might imagine, on Spanish masters, though there are also excellent works by Titian, Dürer, and Tintoretto.

But on to the Spaniards. There are plenty by the Caravaggiesque masters Zurbarán, master of flickering candlelight, and Jose Ribera, master of wrinkly-browed St. Jeromes (as well as the Prado's The Martyrdom of St. Philip of 1630). There are also fine works by Spaniards Murillo and El Greco.

OK, so El Greco was technically a Greek (where he was steeped in Christian Orthodoxy) who came to Spain via Florence (where he picked up Mannerism's wispy, twisty figures) and Venice (where he discovered Titian's color palette), but after he settled in Toledo (where he mixed it all together into an instantly recognizable and unique late Renaissance style) became sort of an honorary Spaniard. Check out in particular his eerily lit Adoration of the Shepherds (1614).

Pride of place in the Prado goes to the works of Diego Velázquez, most especially his Las Meninas, a large, courtly portrait group disarming in its intimacy and the little tricks the artist uses to draw us in (or rather, to project the painting's space out into our reality). It's painted as a sort-of backwards scene: there's a crowd of courtiers and nobles—including the child-princess Infanta Margherita, her handmaidens (for whom the painting is titled), a court dwarf, and a sleepy dog—all gathered around Velázquez, who stands in front of an easel, staring out at us as he decides what to do next. If you look at the mirror on the far wall of the painting, reflected in it are two ghostly figures: that's King Felipe IV and his Queen, whose portrait Velázquez is supposedly painting. In other words the scenes is composed so that we, the viewers, are the royals (or at least are standing next to them), looking at Velázquez who's painting our portrait. Neat. The painting is hung just at the right level in a rooms custom-built for it so as to make the room we're standing in appear to continue into the painting's space.

The gaggles of Goyas (1746-1828)—there are over 100—trace his long, slow decent into a depressed madness, from his early scenes of pastel-cheeked youth frolicking and laughing in bucolic landscapes (Parasol and Blind Man's Bluff) and his stint as a court painter (Family of Charles VI) to a stretch when he painted controversial (the famed Clothed Maja and Naked Maja), often politically-charged works (Third of May, 1808: Execution) in a harsher style, and his late "Black Paintings" period, a series of somber, bloody, breathless paintings (check out Jupiter ripping his son's head off with his teeth from 1823) that he painted on the walls of his house and which are just crying out for some serious couch time with a good therapist. (Instead, he moved to Bordeaux, where at least judging by The Milkmaid of Bordeaux, he managed to find a happier life in his final years.)

Another of the Prado's masterworks is the triptych The Garden of Delights, painted in 1516 by the odd Hieronymus Bosch (they call him El Bosco here). It's a weird landscape of tiny nude figures—some half human/half bug—engaging in the oddest of activities in a feverishly inventive vision of heaven and hell. The most feverish imaginations of a Dalí or a William Burroughs couldn't hold a candle to Bosch, whom many people liken to a 14th century forerunner to surrealism. It is not, as Surrealism was pointedly anti-symbolic, and Bosch's work is entirely interpretative of Catholic symbolism—but these are all just art theory semantics. Sufficeth to say that these are works even Dalí would probably look at and say "That's really warped, man!"

Paseo del Prado
Metro: Banco de España or Atocha
Tues–Sun 9am–8pm
tel. 90-210-7077


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in August 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.