The Museo del Prado, located in Madrid, Spain, is one of the finest museums of European art in the entire world, and most assuredly the best museum of Spanish art. The museum features four floors of over 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, and 4,800 prints. This is a massive museum, and that is an understatement. If you do not have at least a few hours to spend here there is much that you will miss, and even then it would take multiple trips to see and appreciate all the fine art here. The museum actually recognizes this, and if you visit their website they offer three different guides that suggest what you should see for those who are planning to only spend one, two, or three hours there. I would recommend taking in a variety of different art that the museum stores, as it separates the art by nationality (Spanish, German, French, Flemish, Italian, British, and Dutch).
First and foremost, you have to see the museum's extensive collection of Spanish art (after all, you are in Spain). Two of the most notable Spanish painters are Diego Velázquez and Francisco deGoya, whose works are amongst the most represented of any artist in any museum around the world. Velázquez, who was noted for his baroque art style, produced two masterpieces that hang in the Prado titled The Adoration of the Magi and The Surrender of Breda. The Adoration of the Magi is noted for Velázquez's use of chiaroscuro, where strong contrasts between dark and light affect the whole composition (usually light subjects are composed against a black background). The painting depicts the biblical story of the three magi showering the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Velázquez's The Surrender of Breda shows the Spanish general Ambrosio Spinola receiving the keys to the Dutch city Breda after winning the battle and preventing Dutch independence. The only image of warfare is the smoky scene in the background, and Breda instead chooses to focus on the peace being initiated by the two cultures in the foreground. The painting is primarily colored in tones of blue and brown, in sharp contrast to Velázquez's other baroque work and the many paintings of Goya.
|Adoration of the Magi, Velazquez, Prado Museum, Madrid|
Speaking of Goya, the man who has over 140 paintings housed in the Prado, his paintings can be seen in rooms 64 to 67 of floor 0. Perhaps his two most famous works, The Second of May 1808 and Third of May 1808 hang side by side in one of the rooms. The two paintings were commissioned by the council governing Spain after the country was victorious in the War of Independence against Napolean. The former depicts the popular riot of May 2, 1808, where the common people of Madrid attacked the Mamelukes (Turkish soldiers in Napolean's French Army) who were attempting to take away the former King Carlos IV's royal children to France. The common people attacked the Turkish moors with crude weapons like knives in an event that sparked the Spanish War for Independence. The latter painting from Goya is perhaps his most famous, as it is a startling depiction of the horrors of war and one of the first truly modern and revolutionary paintings. In the painting, a group of French soldiers with their backs to us are shown executing a group of rebellious Madrid commoners by firing squad. Whereas most paintings of war before this usually took a serious and realistic style in depicting war, The Third of May is highly stylized. The contrast of light between the executioners and the victims allows us to see the emotion in the doomed man's face, and the pose of his arms recalls the image of Christ hanging on the cross. Overall, these two are stunning and emotionally powerful pieces of art, and it is very common for large groups of people to stand here in awe of these paintings for quite some time.
|The Second of May, Goya, Prado Museum. Madrid|
The other really notable collection of paintings for me was the Flemish school of art. Here, you can view works by legends such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and Peter PaulRubens. Bosch's Table of the Mortal Sins is a wonderfully unique religious work. The four corners show the final stages of life: Death, Judgment, Hell, and Glory, while the inner ring features an image of Christ looking down upon the wheel, surrounded by depictions of the seven deadly sins. A similarly harrowing painting (albeit much more violent), Brueghel's The Triumph of Death depicts a plane of warfare, where the skeletal armies of Death have razed Earth and the people on it. The painting serves as an allegory for the inescapable grasp of Death. Here, everyone except the pair of lovers in the far right corner (although they too are doomed) is being violently killed by living skeletons. What is most interesting about this painting is the detail and variety with which Brueghel afforded it; you can see skeletons looting, pillaging, and murdering all the way to the background of the picture, and the different methods of violence the skeletons use is startling. On a brighter note, Rubens The Judgement of Paris depicts the ideal version of feminized beauty in the image of Paris deciding between Venus, Minerva, and Juno over who to choose as most beautiful. The elegance of the painting recalls the works of the Italian school of painting, and the detailed nude images of the goddesses gives us an idea of Ruben's vision of female beauty.
|The Judgement of Paris, Rubens, Prado Museum|
I've only listed a few paintings here, but there is so much more to see in the Prado. This has to be one of the most in-depth and amazing museums I have visited so far. You walk around and there are masterpieces everywhere from all over Europe and from throughout the ages. Some of my other favorites include Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, Titian's The Fall of Man, Claude Lorraine's Landscape with the Embarkment of Saint Paula Romana in Ostia, Antonio Joli's Carlos III Embarking in Naples, Corrado Giaquinto's The Birth of the Sun and the Triumph of Bacchus, and Giambattista Tiepolo's The Immaculate Conception. For any art fan (or fan of culture really) visiting Madrid, the Museo del Prado should be at the top of your to-do list.
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