The Prado Museum (el Museo del Prado) is one of the best museums in the world, with a spectacular collection of paintings - with a total of more than 3,000 - sculptures, drawings and etchings. The museum is visited every year by nearly 4 million people.
The museum was founded in 1819 under King Fernando VII and celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2019. The Bourbon king has gone down in history as the most miserable king in Spain of all times: he was tricked by Napoleon into letting thousands of French soldiers enter the country resulting in Napoleon’s occupying Spain for more than 6 years. Furthermore, it was during Fernando VII that Spain lost virtually all its possessions in America, including Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico. But Fernando VII was responsible for founding one of the world's best museums.
The Prado Museum has the world's largest and most important collection of Goya and Velázquez paintings, and a fantastic collection of works by Rubens, Titian, El Greco and many other Spanish and foreign artists.
We can encourage you to experience the originals at the museum. City Tours Spain organizes private guided tours with a certified guide at the Prado Museum in several languages.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'El dos de mayo en Madrid'. 1814. Oil painting on canvas, 268,5 x 347,5 cm. Room 64 at the Prado Museum.
Francisco Goya, together with Diego Velázquez, form the cornerstone of the Prado Museum's collection. During his career, Goya created more than 700 oil paintings, around 900 drawings and some 300 etchings. Within its collection, the Prado Museum has more than 150 of Goya's oil paintings. Indeed, the acclaimed Australian art critic, Robert Hughes, calls Goya 'the last of the old masters and the first modern painter'.
Francisco José de Goya of Lucientes was born in 1746 and died in Bordeaux in 1826. One of the most important events in Goya's life occurred towards the end of 1792, when on a trip to southern Spain, he became seriously ill. No one knows exactly which disease he contracted (doctors and art historians have since guessed at polio, hepatitis, meningitis and syphilis), but he experienced ear damage and lost both balance and some sight. He was in bed for more than 2 months. When he returned to Madrid, he had regained his sight and balance - but his hearing never returned. This event radically changed Goya's art, but it didn't make him a worse painter. On the contrary, when Goya started painting again in 1795, he was better than ever before.
Goya worked under three different Spanish kings and (for a brief period) under Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother. He had a close relationship with both Karl III and Karl IV, but a tense one with the despotic King Fernando VII.
The Second of May (El 2 de mayo en Madrid) is one of Goya's most famous - and very best - works. The painting depicts the dramatic riots in Madrid on May 2, 1808 after Napoleon's troops had invaded the country.
Goya's work was painted in 1814, or approximately 6 years after the events took place. Goya manages to produce one of the strongest eyewitness accounts in art history. It is uncertain whether Goya himself experienced the rebellion on his own in the streets, but as an artist he convinces us that he was in the midst of the heat of the fight.
The painting is framed within an architectural background, the central square of Puerta del Sol in the heart of Madrid. The background is the only thing reminiscent of the order of Renaissance art - everything else in the painting depicts chaos and imbalance.
In the center of the painting we see a large white horse, which is also the main light source in the painting. Around the horse, Turkish army troops in the French army, the Mamluks, are fighting a wild battle against the Spanish population. The Mamluk on the horse has a knife in his hand, but he is about to be shot by the man in the right side of the painting. His eyes are wide open with a wild expression on his face. The man in the light green jacket is about to put a sword in the horse's belly, and he turns the white out of his eyes.
To the left of the horse stands a person with retracted lips and white eyes. He has killed the Mamluk on the horse, who is heading towards the ground. The body of the Mamluk mirrors the sword on the ground.
El dos de mayo en Madrid is a snapshot created before the invention of the camera.There is nothing 'glorious' about the painting, as in the war paintings of the Renaissance. Instead, for the first time in art history, Goya manages to make the war look like war, dark and horrific.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'Carlos V en la Batalla de Mühlberg'. 1548. Oil painting on canvas, 335 cm x 283 cm. Room 27 at the Prado Museum.
Titian (also known as Tiziano Vecchelio in his native language and in the Spanish-speaking areas as Tiziano) is considered the greatest artist of the 16th century, or 'the sun amidst small stars'. He was both a charismatic portrait painter and an amazing storyteller. When Titian was at his peak, 40 people worked for him in his workshop.
He was a court painter for the Habsburg emperor Karl V, who was so impressed with Titian that he picked up a brush that the artist lost on the floor. The emperor had Titian paint a posthumous portrait of his late wife Isabella of Portugal, which he usually carried with him on his travels.
It is uncertain when Titian was born in the small town of Pieve di Cadore. Some authors believe it to be as early as 1477, but there is broad agreement that he was born around 1488-1490. Titian lived until 1576 when he died under an epidemic plague. By the time he was 10 years old, he had already started to practice painting under the artist Sebastiano Zuccato in Venice, which was, at the time, one of the richest cities in the world.
There are several myths about Titian and his unique talent. The best-known tale might explain why his parents sent him to school so early. Sheila Hale describes in her biography Titian (2012), about an early episode in Titian's life. As a little boy he was out in the mountains, and here he painted a Madonna figure with the nectar of berries and flowers. The drawing was so beautiful that people stopped and exclaimed eureka!
During his first years in Venice he worked with - and in competition with - the Bellini brothers (Giorgione and Giovanni). When Giorgione Bellini (1510) and later Giovanni Bellini (1516) died, Titian was without rivals in Venice, and he came to dominate the art scene there until his death. Titian painted in the High Renaissance, working in close contact with science.
Titian was a master of the use of colours. He is often compared to Michelangelo, who nobody surpassed in the drawings. Michelangelo himself said to the art historian Giorgio Vasari:
'If Titian had been helped as much by the art schools as by nature, no one would be able to surpass him'
The portrait is full of charisma. Charles V is seen riding a horse on the battlefield. The Spaniards won the battle because they took advantage of the powerful fog to attack the flank of the opponents. The emperor was 47 years old at the time and was suffering from arthritis, so he was carried to the battle in a chair and not on a magnificent war horse in modern armour, as depicted in Titian's work. The famous Habsburg jawbone is also hidden in the painting.
The king looks out over the deserted landscape with a victorious gaze. He has lost the human qualities and has been turned into myth. It is thus an allegorical image of the head of state, who dominates the horse (= state / people). The portrait of Charles V would make history in the art of painting: images of emperors and kings on horseback would dominate the art of posterity.
The exhibition 'Titian: Love, Desire, Death' is currently on display at the National Gallery in London, but the exhibition is currently closed due to coronavirus and is scheduled to be at the Prado Museum in 2021.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'Las Meninas' . 1656/1558. Canvas oil painting, 318 cm x 276 cm. Room 12 of the Prado Museum.
Diego Velázquez Las Meninas is for the Prado Museum what Mona Lisa is for the Louvre: the museum's signature painting. Las Meninas is one of the most fascinating works of art history, and it continues to amaze, delight and surprise visitors.
Diego Velázquez is considered to be the best Spanish painter of all time, and the Prado Museum has a total of 120 of his works in his collection, of which about 50 are permanently on display. Apart from the youth works of Seville and the works of two Italian journeys, Velázquez's paintings are painted at the court, giving an insight into the intrigues and life at the court. Specifically, they reflect the life of the royal family from his initial works in 1623 until Velázquez’ death in 1660.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was born in 1599 in Seville. His mother was from Seville and his father had Jewish-Portuguese roots. Velázquez came to apprentice as a 12-year-old in a studio and the year with a new teacher: the Sevillian master Francisco Pacheco. Velázquez had an unmatched technique at an early age. During the first years, he often used the chiaroscuro technique (in which the use of a dark background and dramatic contrasts of light) which was widely used by the Italian artist, Caravaggio.
On the advice of Peter Paul Rubens, Velázquez made two longer trips to Italy: in 1629-31 and in 1649-51. On his way, Velázquez visited the cities of Naples, Genoa, Rome and Milan. Along the way, he painted a number of kings and princes. On the second voyage, he even portrayed Pope Inocencio X.
Las Meninas is one of the largest works at the Prado Museum - it measures just under 3 meters. In Las Meninas, the traditional relationship between narrator / painter and recipient / spectator has been changed. In Velázquez's painting, the painter includes himself in the painting resulting in the spectator being drawn into the canvas by the direct look of Velázquez. The Dutch author Cees Nooteboom has summarized this play with the spectator in his work, Roads to Santiago (1992).
Velázquez paints a painting I don't see. I can see a painting by an artist painting a painting I don't see. The artist looks directly at me but can't see me.
In the painting we see Princess Margarita Teresa, who is Philip IV and Queen Mariana of Austria's second-youngest daughter. The princess is raised by two court girls (in Spanish: meninas), Isabela and Maria Agustina, who offer her water. In the lower right corner there is a dog, and behind the dog stands the dwarf, Mari Bárbola. Another dwarf, Nicolasito, plays with the dog using his foot.
In the background, we see the court lady Marcela de Ulloa having a conversation with the princess's private teacher Diego Ruiz Azcona, while in the back of the door stands the Marshal, Don José Nieto Velázquez, who worked in the court for more than 50 years. The painter looking out at the spectator is of course Diego Velázquez himself, and in the mirror on the back wall we can see the King and the Queen: Philip IV and Mariana of Austria.
In painting himself, we see Velázquez with the Cross of the Order of Santiago on his chest. Actually, Felipe IV convinced Pope Alexander VII to make an exception to the normal rules in which usually both a person’s father and mother were required to have noble blood in the veins. In Velázquez’ case, he had only one noble grandfather. Nonetheless, Velázquez did not receive the Cross of the Order of Santiago until 1559, that is, three years after he painted Las Meninas, so he must have added the cross later. Some even suggest that it was King Felipe IV himself who painted the cross on Velázquez's chest after his death.
The title at the Prado Museum: ' El caballero con la mano en el pecho'. 1580. Oil painting on canvas, 81,80 x 65,80 cm. Room 8b at the Prado Museum.
El Greco was born in Greece (Crete) and was Greek-speaking (his Greek name was Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος), and mastered both icon painting and post-Byzantine art. In Rome, El Greco met Don Diego de Castilla, son of the Bishop of Toledo, and helped get El Greco to Spain because the Santo Domingo de Silos Monastery was being built and needed paintings. In Spain, many medieval ideals were still alive, and this helps explain why El Greco, with full deliberation, moved far from realism (even more so than Tintoretto), as he was inspired by the icons he knew from his homeland.
El Greco learns from Tintoretto, who exaggerated the characters and mannerisms that made the bodies longer. El Greco's art was too modern for most people during his life, and he was only really understood after World War I, when viewers realized that not all works of art had to be measured based on the 'correct' representation of reality.
The Prado Museum has an excellent collection of his works, but we also recommend experiencing his paintings in Toledo, less than an hour's drive from Madrid. In Toledo, El Greco’s works of art can be seen in six different museums and churches: the Greco Museum, the Santo Tomé Church, the Santa Cruz Museum and the Cathedral of Toledo, Santo Domingo el Antiguo and the Talavera Hospital.
Most of El Greco's works have religious themes, but here we see a portrait of one of Toledo's nobles. The knight with his hand on his chest was painted in 1580 approximately. At this time, El Greco became an artist, and began to undertake a number of important tasks for the nobility in Toledo. However, it is the religious works that dominate his production.
From the outset, this masterpiece has been one of El Greco's most popular ones at the Prado Museum. The work shows a nobility, a hidalgo. The word hidalgo comes from the Spanish 'hijo de alguien', ie. 'a child of an important, noble person'. Originally, the nobles were those who had horses and were originally called caballeros (knights), but over time, there were more and more nobles in Spain. Hidalgos became quite o widespread in the Spanish society. Actually, a survey from 1787 showed a total of 480,589 hidalgos in the country, and in Asturias and Cantabria the percentage of hidalgos was particularly high. The Bourbon kings had to change the laws, because the nobles did not pay taxes.
The man in the painting is around 30 years old, and wears clothes representative of the fashion in the 1570s, with a white pipe collar. The collar also acts as a frame of the face in the image, while the neutral background contrasts with the face and the full-bodied sword.
In addition to the background, we see only three things: the face, the sword and the hand. His gold chain and fine hands offer proof that he is a noble; he does not work in the field. The sword is also made of gold. The hand on the chest has been interpreted as an expression of a solemn promise.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'La Adoración de los Magos' . 1609/1650. Oil painting on canvas, 355,50 x 493 cm. Room 28 at the Prado Museum.
If Titian was the greatest artist of the 16th century, Rubens was, for many, the greatest painter of the 17th century in Europe. Rubens became one of the most famous and richest artists over time, and he became the portrait painter for several kings and princes.
Rubens was immensely productive throughout his life and painted around 1500 oil paintings. The Prado Museum has as many as 90 of his works - among them several of Ruben's very best paintings.
Rubens lived during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), the fierce wars between Protestants and Catholics in Europe. Rubens was born to a Flemish family in Siegen (in present Germany) and lived most of his life in Antwerp but stayed in Italy from 1600 until 1608. Rubens' father was a Protestant (Calvinist), and was persecuted for his faith.
Adoration of the Magi is one of the Prado Museum's largest images - it measures more than 3½ x 5 meters. Rubens demonstrates his superior technique in this image, showing how the Magi present their gifts to Christ as a child. They are in the company of a large group of people. A young Jesus seems to be playing with the incense given to him. While the scene takes place at night, it is still bright out, and Jesus lights up. The frame on the left is a classic building with columns. The robes of kings have beautiful embroidery, and both jewellery boxes, gold and gems are present.
The painting was made in two stages: in the period 1608 - 1609, which is towards the end of Ruben's long stay in Italy, where he was inspired by Michelangelo and Tintoretto (notice the dirty foot at the bottom of the painting, which is a typical feature of this period ), and 20 years later, when Rubens extends the work towards the top and the right side. At this moment, Rubens adds a self-portrait to the painting - you can find Rubens at the far right below the horse.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'El lavatorio'. 1548 - 1549. Oil painting on canvas, 210 x 533 cm. Room 25 at the Prado Museum.
Jacopo Comin (also called Robusti) Tintoretto was born in Venice in 1518 and died in 1594. He was the oldest son of 21 siblings and was called Il Furioso - 'The Furious One', because of his energetic manner of painting. Tintoretto was the master of perspective, and his contrasting use of light and shadow, exaggeration and mannerism anticipated the Baroque period.
His father Giovanni Battista earned his living dyeing clothes, hence the surname Tintoretto (tintoretto in Italian means "little clothes dyer"). As a boy, he displayed great talent, and his father helped him get admitted to Titian's workshop, and he later studied Michelangelo's works in Florence and Rome. Above his workshop, he later wrote: 'Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano' (The drawing of Michelangelo and the colour of Titian). He later said that others could take care of the perfect art while his desire was to surprise the spectator.
Tintoretto was given the task of painting Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet by the Holy Sacrament School of the Church of San Marco. We find the biblical source for the painting in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verses 12-15, but Tintoretto was actually inspired by Pietro Aretino's book 'I Quattro libri de la humanita di Christo' (1539), which offers a twist on the biblical story.
The perspective in the painting is surprising. If you see the image from a position in the center, the distribution of the characters in the painting may seem out of order or random, but Tintoretto designed the image to be seen from the right corner (it would hang to the left in the church).So, if you see the image from the right side, a straight line goes diagonally from Christ and Saint Peter to the upper left corner.
The octagonal tiles in the floor are inspired by a contemporary book, Sebastiano Serlio's book on perspective, Secondo libro di perspettiva (1545). The painting was later acquired by the Spanish king Felipe IV for his royal palace north of Madrid, El Escorial, and here Diego Velázquez gave it an important position since it was one of his favourite paintings.
The title at the Prado Museum: ' El cardenal'. 1510 - 1511. Oil painting on canvas, 335 cm x 283 cm. Room 27 at the Prado Museum.
Raphael (also known as Rafael, Rafaelli Santi or Rafaello) is the ultimate Renaissance artist, and together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci he formed the trinity of the three best artists of the time. Rafael was enormously productive in his short life, and despite dying on his 37th birthday (in 1520 - he was born in 1483), he worked for two different popes. His best-known work is The School of Athens, which shows Socrates and Aristotle in discussion, surrounded by several of the greatest scholars of the classical world.
There were almost no limits to Raphael's talent. He was both a painter and an architect, and worked at St. Peter's Church as an architect, but it is as a painter that he is best known. Raphael was just 7 years old when his mother died, and only 4 years later, his father Giovanni Santi also died of a heart attack. His uncle, Bartolomeo, who was a priest, then took Raphael into custody.
The first known work by Raphael is a self-portrait he painted when he was only 15 or 16 years old. When he was just 20 years old, he moved to Florence where he studied Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci's latest works. Four years later, Raphael was asked to come to Rome to work in the Vatican, where he would produce some of his most spectacular works.
PS. If the name Raphael reminds you of ninja turtles, it's because the four turtles (Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael) are named after a book about Renaissance artists.
In the painting 'The Cardinal' Rafael depicts one of the cardinals of the pope or papal state under Pope Julius II, and the painting was later acquired by the Spanish king Karl IV. There are several similarities between Raphael's work and Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa: both portraits show the portrayed person sitting and both forming a triangle with their arms and bodies.
The portrait has great purity and uses only a few different colours: the contrast between the bright face, the white sleeves and the red hat and cap causes the portrait to stand out clearly from the dark green background. Art historians have had a hard time identifying the cardinal, and it is believed that this is because Rafael idealizes the person in a way that his face is almost divine. According to the art critic Pierto Bembo, Rafael painted 'people more real than they really are'.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'David vencedor de Goliat'. Ca. 1600. Oil painting on canvas, 110,40 x 91,30 cm. Room 6 at the Prado Museum.
The Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known by the name 'Caravaggio' (taken from a small town close to Milan, where his family came from), was born in 1571 and died at the age of 39 in 1610. Caravaggio had a huge influence on 17th century art, not least in Spain, and helped define Baroque art, especially with the widespread use of chiaroscuro, i.e., paintings with great contrasts between light and shadow. Most often his images are very dark and have a dramatic illumination; the shadows become darker and the light brighter.
The Italian artist had a great influence on both Rubens and Rembrandt. Diego Velázquez, who was trained in Seville, where Caravaggio was very influential, was especially influenced in his early years by the Milanese painter, and later had the opportunity to learn from Caravaggio's works during his first trip to Italy.
Caravaggio revolutionized the art of taking ordinary people from the street into his studio to paint them. His peculiar style, however, also had his critics: in the 19th century English art critic John Ruskin criticized Caravaggio for bringing 'horror and ugliness' into the visual arts. Despite his brilliance as an artist, his life was marked by scandals and he had to flee to Rome after killing a person in 1606.
The painting shows us the aftermath of David's victory over Goliath. We find the source in Chapter 17 of the Second Book of Samuel, but Caravaggio makes important changes to the story compared with the Bible’s. David's attempt to tie Goliath is deeply original.
The image is painted in Caravaggio's youth somewhere between 1596 and 1600. Here we see an extreme form of chiaroscuro: everything but David's body and Goliath's enormous head and right hand are hidden in the dark. The blood drips from the wound in Goliath's forehead, and you can still see the spasms in his hand.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'Tríptico del Jardín de las delicias'. Painted between 1490 and 1510. Grisaille and Oil painting on wood. Room 56 at the Prado Museum.
Bosch is one of the most fascinating artists at the Prado Museum and the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights is his most famous creation. It is the museum’s second most viewed or visited work of art, only surpassed by Velázquez' Las Meninas.
Very little is known about Hieronimus Bosch, but he was born about 1450 and was christened Jheronimus van Aken. We also know that his family was originally from Aachen in Germany. The artist later took the name Bosch, because he was born in the Flemish city of s-Hertogenbosch.
The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych - an altarpiece in three parts that usually belongs in a church, but in this case, it is painted for a private home, more specifically for the court in Brussels under the German prince of Nassau. Either Engelbert II of Nassau or Henry III of Nassau commissioned the work. Both princes were known for their lavish parties, so the work was probably created to appear at these gatherings.
When the triptych is closed, you see the creation of the world, painted with the grisaille technique, where lighter grey colors were painted on a darker grey background. Bosch used the grey tones to illustrate that what we see is the third day of the creation of the world - that is, before colours existed.
The closed triptych shows two phrases from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament: "For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm" (chap. 33 verse 9) and "let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created” (chap. 148, verse 5).
When the triptych icon is open, the three panels are quite different from paintings by contemporary artists such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Rafael. Indeed, the three paintings should be read from left to right. On the left we see Paradise in which God presents Adam to Eve, but Bosch’s interpretation of Paradise is populated by strange beings and machines.
The central panel shows a large garden with many people and fantasy creatures. In the center we see a lake with women surrounded by men on horseback. The right panel shows hell. The scene is dark, and here we see pain, torture, demons and cities on fire. One of the sources of inspiration might have been the frescoes of the Romanesque churches, where we find similar descriptions of hell and sin. At the same time, The Garden of Earthly Delightsinspired surrealism and 20th century artists such as Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Frida Kahlo and Joan Miró.
The title at the Prado Museum: 'El socorro de Génova por el II marqués de Santa Cruz'. 1634 - 1635. Oil painting on canvas, 290 x 370 cm. Room 9 at the Prado Museum.
Antonio de Pareda is one of the lesser known artists at the Prado Museum, but this painting deserves to be considered as one of the museum's masterpieces. It is a remarkable painting of a very young painter who was just 23 years old when he painted this work of art. The image has tremendous detail and shows the versatility of the Prado's collection. The large size of the painting allows you to walk back and forth in front of the painting to observe all its vast details. The artist had never visited Genoa but used paintings of Flemish cities from this time) as models. Antonio de Pareda was born in 1611 in Valladolid and died in Madrid in 1678.
The man at the center of the painting is the Duke of Genoa coming out to receive Álvaro de Bazán (who was the Marquis of Santa Cruz) who led a (or the) Spanish army that came to help defend the city of Genoa against the French. The French were led by François de Bonne de Lesdiguières. Further back in the painting we can see how the troops were welcomed by the local inhabitants, and on the right side of the painting a boy looks out at the spectator. The battle ended with the triumph of the Spaniards against the French. The painting, of course, was commissioned to commemorate this triumph, and to pay tribute to the Marquis of Santa Cruz, Álvaro de Bazán, the Spanish army commander who had never lost a battle.