The Museo del Prado is unquestionably one of the most remarkable museums in the world, its permanent collection includes paintings by some of the most celebrated European masters of the period spanning the 16th and 19th Centuries as well as subsequent periods, sculpture, decorative arts, prints etc.. Consistently amongst the top 10 most visited museums in the world, at the end of this year the Museo Nacional del Prado celebrates it 200th anniversary.
200 years of showcasing Spanish art
First opened to the public on the 19th of November in 1819 the institution was known as the Museo Real de Pinturas (Royal Painting Museum) within the building that continues to accommodate the bulk of the collection designed originally as the Natural History Museum in 1785 by architect Juan de Villanueva. The change of status was instigated by Fernando VII who was encouraged by his second wife Isabel de Braganza to provide a showcase for Spanish art that would be the equal of similar initiatives that were emerging in other European countries.
To mark the occasion of the Bicentenary a whole series of activities have been planned with the aim of recognising the importance of this institution throughout its history, to assess its current role and look to the future. One of the most important aspects of the programme is the inauguration of a new exhibition space Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms, originally a wind of the Buen Retiro Palace), designed by Sir Norma Foster that will add additional exhibition space to the ‘Prado Campus’ the grouping of buildings that nowadays form the overall precinct.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Museo del Prado is a key landmark of the Paseo del Prado that stretches between the Atocha train station to the Cibeles fountain that also includes the Real Jardín Botánico (laid out by the same architect as the Prado building), this year Madrid city council will present the candidacy for this jewel of urban planning as a UNESCO world heritage status, to be announced in February of 2019. The area and the museum takes its name from the fields that previously occupied the site, the word prado means meadow in Spanish.
The preparations for celebrating the Bicentenary within upcoming months include changes to the permanent collection with regards to the way the main museum building is utilised. The developments include the opening of the Ionic Gallery that will accommodates classical sculpture, a new installation of Tesoro del Delfín (Dauphin’s Treasure) located in the museum’s north wing and the opening of a new space dedicated to the 17th Century Dutch and Flemish masters on the second floor of the north wing. Meaning that the entire Juan de Villanueva building will now be converted into exhibition space, one of the changes that will be included within the Prado 200 exhibition that will focus on acquisitions since the museum’s foundation and how the building itself has been adapted over its history.
A celebration of classic European art
Nowadays the Prado collection comprises approximately 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, and 1,000 sculptures, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents. Only a small percentage of which is on display at any one time, simply down to shortage of exhibition space. Perhaps the most famous paintings are the ones by the Spanish masters including Velázquez, el Greco, Goya and Zurbarán or the Flemish and Dutch painters Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens and Titian as well as having the most extensive collection of Italian renaissance art including works by Titian, Raphael and Tintoretto.
In parallel to the extended display of the permanent collection a series of temporary exhibitions is also being planned that will feature illustrious works by Velázquez, Rembrandt, Goya, Fra Angelico, Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Peter Brueghel the Elder. Another of the special exhibitions entitled Circa 1819, will feature approximately 75 paintings created in the decades immediately prior to and following the foundation of the Museum.
Prado, an historical resource for all of Spain and beyond
The importance of the Prado as a national institution will be underlined through a travelling exhibition “De gira por España” (On tour around Spain) when works associated with the various regional autonomies will be on loan for a month, as well as “Prado Itinerante” that pays homage to the “People’s Museum” of the Second Republic era “Pedagogic Missions” (designed to address the lack of educational resources in rural Spain) celebrating ‘Las meninas’ the masterpiece painted by Velázquez in1656 within an exhibition installed within a vehicle touring the country.
This aspect is also the motivation behind initiatives designed to widen access to the Prado within sectors of the population that have been traditionally excluded, such as incarcerated prisoners, the visually impaired and the mobility challenged.
And on November 19th perhaps one of the most ambition elements of the Bicentenary will be launched when the entire archive of the Prado’s documentary holdings will be put online, making it the first Spanish museum and one of the first in the world to do so.
Future visitors will be grateful that another of the aims for the Bicentenary year is the improvement of the visitor experience, with shorter queuing times for both permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as activities related to the bicentenary.
Now is a good time to plan accommodation for a visit to Madrid, both the Hotel Único Madrid and The Principal Madrid are excellent options either of which are no further than a fifteen minute stroll from the Museo del Prado. Both offer an authentic experience of understated luxury combined with a gastronomic excellence that will delight both the eye and the taste buds, Atico Madrid (The Principal Madrid) and Ramón Freixa Madrid (Hotel Único).
Their Respective webs are also a great source of recommendations both cultural, shopping and for entertainment while in the city.
For advance purchase of tickets and a range of options regarding organised tours through the museum visit its's official website.