Whether viewing the Permanent or Temporary Exhibits
it is always a good time at the Museo del Prado  

By Drew De Los Santos
Photo: Drew De  Los Santos

If you can only spend one day at the Prado, I recommend at least six hours to see it all. And my, is it worth those hours of wandering through room after room of exquisite Spanish Art. The museum has two and a half floors of art, with the majority being permanent installments. Budding artists can be seen attempting to recreate the classics. And special exhibits are always changing; so get there while they’re hot! After strolling and gazing upon most of the zero and first floors, I barely had time to make it to the special exhibits before staff cleared everyone out ten minutes before eight.

For centuries Spanish Royalty have commissioned artists to paint family portraits, historical and mythical scenes, and to sculpt. As you travel through the Prado it is clear that the Kings and Queens of the past valued and supported their most talented artists. But there are not only Spanish painters in this grand museum; Italian works find their home here along with others from Belgium and around Europe. And within the mix of art you get a glimpse of the history of the Iberian Peninsula and all that holds Europe together. It is truly an enchanting museum for anyone who wants to see a mixture of fiction and reality so beautifully displayed.

While most of the works are royal portraits or religious, the pure skill and the differing technique keeps the repetitive themes from boring you. Of course it is not all repetitive, but you will see many different takes on the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, the Annunciation, the Lamentation, and a few other scenes. But this only added to my ability to recognize the scene and guessing the names of paintings before reading their heading became a sort of game that only added to my experience.

Among the many Greek mythology paintings on the first floor are those of Titian, who painted the four Furies of Ovid: Sisyphus, Tityus, Tantatus, and Ixion. And a glimpse of a most fascinating sculpture that surpasses the original in the Louvre, Bonuccelli’s Hermaphroditus, should not be missed due to its life like nature and a stone cushion that looks quite comfortable. On this floor you will also find the works of Diego Velazquez, a painter in the court of King Philip IV. And in a forest green room next to his most famous royal portraits like Las Meninas, are portraits of the Dwarfs and Buffoons of the court. How interesting that Velazquez painted these members of society; this room gives us a more personal look at the mind of Velazquez.

A most fascinating part of Spanish art history include those of the 18th and 19th centuries (found on the first floor) whose works were comprised of historical allegory. Many took up the entire wall, including ones that most captured my attention, which were the scenes from the life of Juana la Loca.

Something that is interesting about these historical allegories and even some of the religious scenes is the use of period clothing or historical figures that were not alive during that time. One of the detailed gothic paintings on the zero floor portrays Mary in medieval clothing. And I suspect that this was done in order to convey the infinite nature of Mary, Jesus, God, and a story that is seemingly timeless.

I could go on and on about the different painters on display at the Prado. Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights can be stared at for at least twenty minutes given the whimsical yet creepy details it holds. Much delight is found in Peter Paul Rubens’ mix of mythical and real. And you cannot forget one of Spain’s most noted painters, Francisco Goya and his scandalous Nude Maja or the terrifying Saturn Devours his Son. But these are things you know not to miss, for they are world-renowned!

What’s less notable are the Japanese Prints on display to commemorate relations between Japan and Spain. They are colorful and wonderfully detailed displays of daily life, theater, and war. Many were previously shown in the 1930’s in Madrid and bare the stamp from their previous owner. What is magnificent about this room is its placement next to Spanish art from the same era, the 17th through 19th centuries. The contrast between the styles is astounding and the elegant Japanese prints are a welcome break from Western Romanticism. These prints will be on display until the 6th of October, and I highly recommend taking a look.

Another special exhibit is entitled Captive Beauty: Fran Angelic to Fortuny, it is hidden to the left of the museum’s café and one of its souvenir shops on the first floor. What makes this exhibition unique is the rarity of the pieces inside. Most of them were previously too frail to put on display. Within fifteen rooms are over 281 intensely detailed and miniscule paintings and sculptures that require the most careful curator to bring them out, and all deserve to be looked over carefully. My advice? Go to the Prado just to see this exhibit one afternoon and take your time studying each work. Some of my favorites included Rubens’ paintings of the five senses, and Bosch’s table of the seven deadly sins. This exhibit will run until the 10th of November.

These are the only two temporary I was able to see during my time at the Prado, but there was one more entitled Mengs y Azara. El retrato de una Amistad, which runs until the 13th of October. This exhibit tells the story of a friendship between two artists through their works.

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Drew has a BA in International Relations from Trinity University. She loves to write and to travel, “finding new things to do in a city no matter where.”