The Prado National Museum is the top cultural sight in Madrid. It houses what is widely regarded as one of the best collections of European Art, as well as the best collection of Spanish Art, anywhere in the world.
The 18th Century Neo-Classical building was originally constructed to house the Natural History collection in the late 18th century on the orders of Charles III. The King’s grandson, Ferdinand VII, decided it should instead be the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures.
It opened to the public as a museum in 1819 and at the time displayed 311 paintings from the collection of over 1,500 from the Royal residences. Over time the building was expanded as much as possible as both the collection and the number of visitors grew.
In 2007, a large extension designed by Rafael Mono was opened incorporating the restored cloister of the monastery of San Jerónimo el Real. This extension increased the available area for exhibition by over fifty percent.
Works from European Masters
The Prado National Museum’s incredible collection features highlights by all of the European masters such as Bosch, Raphael, Rubens and Goya. Its unique nature is a result of the tastes of the 16th and 17th century Spanish monarchs who aimed to assemble as many works as possible by their favourite artists.
The Prado has often been described as a museum of painters not of paintings. Rather than being a comprehensive collection of art history, instead its artists are represented more deeply. It has, for example, the largest holdings of Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya, some numbering more than 100 works.
Overall the entire collection comprises over 20,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures though only around 1,200 works are on display at any one time. Many more are loaned out to other institutions and the Museum also has regular exhibitions displaying further works.
The most famous painting is widely considered to be Las Meninas by Diego Velasquez and whilst the collection’s size can be overwhelming, if you’re short on time the museum recommends the following list that can be viewed in about an hour:
- ‘The Crucifixion’ by Juan de Flandes, Room 57b
- ‘The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest’ by El Greco, Room 10a
- ‘Las Meninas’ by Velázquez, Room 12
- ‘Jacob’s Dream’ by José de Ribera, Room 16b
- ‘The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid: the executions on Principe Pio hill’ by Goya, Room 39
- ‘The Annunciation’ by Fra Angelico, Room 49
- ‘The Cardinal’ by Raphael, Room 49
- ‘The Emperor Charles V, on Horseback, in Mühlberg’ by Titian, Room 11
- ‘The Immaculate Conception’ by Tiepolo Giambattista, Room 89
- ‘Descent from the Cross’ by Roger van der Weyden, Room 58
- ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch, Room 56
- ‘The Three Graces’ by Peter Paul Rubens, Room 9
- ‘Self Portrait’ by Albrecht Dürer, Room 55b
- ‘Artemis’ by Rembrandt, Room A
- ‘Offering by Orestes and Pylades (San Ildefonso Group)’. Anonymous, Room 71
Tickets cost €15 for adults or €24 including guidebook. For OAPs and holders of Youth Cards it’s €7.50 whilst for under 18s, students aged 18-25 and visitors with physical impairments entry is completely free. If you feel you will need more time to take in the collection you can buy a ‘Two Visit’ ticket for €22.
If you want to visit more galleries then you can buy a ‘Paseo del Arte’ card which includes entry to the three main museums on Paseo del Prado – El Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza – for €29.60, saving 20% overall.
Prices are correct at time of writing. As always, check the official website for any changes.