Treasures of the Prado: Tiny Folio

Autor Felipe Vincente Garin Llombart
en Limba Engleză Hardback – oct 1998
Spain's greatest museum, The Prado, in your pocket.

When it opened on November 19, 1819, The Museo del Prado, in Madrid, consisted entirely of works from the Spanish royal collections. Numerous treasures have been added since opening day, but the unique strengths of the Prado's collection can still be traced to that original core of remarkable works—many acquired or commissioned from the artists themselves during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.

The Prado is internationally renowned for its unsurpassed collection of masterpieces by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, and Peter Paul Rubens. As this richly illustrated little volume makes clear, it also possesses a brilliant collection of paintings and drawings by other artists throughout Europe as well as fascinating decorative arts and notable sculptures.
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ISBN-13: 9780789204905
ISBN-10: 0789204908
Pagini: 312
Dimensiuni: 107 x 117 x 22 mm
Greutate: 0.26 kg
Editura: Abbeville Publishing Group
Colecția Abbeville Press
Seria Tiny Folio

Locul publicării:United States


Table of Contents from: Treasures of The Prado


Spanish Painting, Sculpture, and Drawing

Flemish and Dutch Painting

Italian Painting

French, German, and English Painting

Decorative Arts


Index of Illustrations

Notă biografică

Felipe Vicente Garín Llombart is former director of the Museo del Prado.


Excerpt from: Treasures of The Prado


When it opened on November 19, 1819, the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture of the Prado consisted entirely of works from the royal collections, previously on view in the palaces of the Spanish sovereigns. The uniqueness of the Prado’s collection today is largely attributable to this original core of works, which reflect the artistic tastes of Spain’s monarchs. Their choices resulted in the Prado’s exceptional collection of paintings by Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya (both of whom served as court painters), and in the multitude of fine works by Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, and Hieronymus Bosch. At the same time, their choices inevitably led to some of the collections lacunae.

In order to appreciate the tremendous strength of the Prado’s holdings, we must first understand the history of royal collecting in Spain, which had begun centuries before the museum opened. Isabella the Catholic acquired a rich collection of Flemish paintings, which she bequeathed to the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Granada in 1504. Under Emperor Charles V (1516–56) and especially Philip II (1556–98), Flemish and Italian painting became the cornerstone of the royal collections. Titian met Charles V in 1532, and he painted for him and for Philip II a variety of portraits, mythological scenes, and devotional works; his Danaë and the Shower of Gold and The Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg were central elements in the decor of the royal palaces. Philip II was also partial to Flemish altarpieces like Rogier van der Weydens Descent from the Cross, and his eclectic taste led him to purchase several paintings by Bosch, which rank among the treasures of the Prado. The role of the court painters, in particular that of portraitists like Antonio Moro and Alonso Sánchez Coello, also expanded considerably under Philip II’s reign.

Philip IV (1621–65), Velázquez’s patron for over thirty years and one of the greatest collectors of the seventeenth century, acquired nearly two thousand French and Italian paintings by both Renaissance and contemporary artists. When the possessions of England’s Charles I were dispersed after his execution, Philip IV strengthened his Italian Renaissance holdings even more by acquiring new works by Correggio, Andrea del Sarto, and Titian, as well as Andrea Mantegna’s Death of the Virgin and Raphael’s Holy Family with a Lamb. To ornament his palaces he turned to landscapists from Rome as well as to Rubens, and his predilection for Rubens—whom he knew personally and from whom he commissioned a set of works after Ovid’s Metamorphoses for his hunting pavilion—led him to purchase several paintings still in Rubens’ studio at the time of the painters death. Philip IV also decided to donate his collection to the crown, thereby eliminating the risk of future dispersion and even laying the conceptual foundation for the future Prado.

A fire at the royal palace in Madrid in 1734 and the resulting loss of more than five hundred works cast a shadow over the reign of Philip V (1724–46), grandson of the French king Louis XIV and the first Bourbon king of Spain. Nevertheless, Philips French heritage and the role played by his second wife, Isabella Farnese, breathed fresh life into the collections and into the new buildings commissioned to replace the royal palace. Isabella Farnese, who astutely acquired important works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, also reinforced the traditional Spanish taste for Italian painting, and Italian fresco painters from Corrado Giaquinto to Giambattista Tiepolo were summoned to decorate the new palaces. (Many of their sketches remain in the Prado’s collection.) This vast decorative enterprise, which was continued by Ferdinand VI (1746–59) and Charles III (1759–88), also yielded commissions for the Santa Barbara tapestry workshops. An entire generation of young Spaniards trained at the new Academy of Fine Arts was called on to design cartoons for tapestries, and those by Goya are among the Prado’s treasures. In addition, his portraits of Charles IV (1788-1808) and the royal family constitute a grand finale for the royal collections in the years just before they were opened to the public.

The idea of exhibiting the collections was first broached in 1775 by Anton Raphael Mengs, a painter, theorist, and guiding spirit of the Academy; that same year plans for a museum building were submitted by the great Neoclassical architect Juan de Villanueva. Construction of the building, which was intended to house both works of art and works of science (Villanueva also designed the Astronomical Observatory and the Botanical Gardens), continued desultorily over several decades, interrupted first by the death of Charles III toward the end of 1788 and then by the Napoleonic wars.

In 1809 Joseph Bonaparte, king of Spain from 1808 to 1814 during the Napoleonic usurpation, decided to establish a museum of paintings comprising works from the royal collections and those confiscated from the religious orders, which had recently been suppressed. This museum, which came to be known as the Museo Josefino, was to have been installed in the Buenavista Palace, but its progress was halted by the fall of the Napoleonic empire. There is a certain irony in the fact that the first attempt at opening a national museum was given impetus by a Napoleonic king and that it coincided with the Napoleonic wars, which led to the disappearance of so many important works from Spanish soil.

After the fall of Joseph Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbons, Ferdinand VII (1814-33) renewed the museum project, but the convents demands for the return of their paintings curtailed his plans considerably. With the support of his queen, Isabella of Braganza, he decided to place works from the royal collections on public display, and charged his majordomo, the Marquis of Santa Cruz, with the task of organizing this gallery; Santa Cruz in turn was aided by Vicente Lopez, First Painter to the Chamber. On March 3, 1818, the king ordered the restoration of Villanueva’s superb Neoclassical building, begun in 1775, which had become the Museum of Natural History. Its construction had been well advanced by the time of Joseph Bonaparte’s rule, but it had been heavily damaged during the wars and at one point had even been used to house French troops.

Ferdinand VII, who underwrote the repairs with his own personal funds, wanted the museum to be the setting for "the most beautiful paintings decorating his palaces." So it became. When it opened in November 1819 the museum already boasted more than fifteen hundred works, but the unusually uncrowded style of installation and the lack of display space meant that only a small portion of them could be shown. All were catalogued gradually, one room at a time, by the curator, Luis Eusebi. Though still owned by the crown and thus part of the kings estate at his death in 1833, the works in the Prado were not divided between his two daughters—a decision crucial to the museums future. They went instead to Isabella II (1833-68), who compensated her sister for them. Throughout these years the Prado was continually enriched by the addition of works from the royal palaces, especially the Escorial, and of those purchased by successive rulers. In 1839 the Dauphin’s Treasure entered the museum; a little later came drawings from the studios of the court painters. The Prado’s collection of drawings now contains almost five thousand works, including those from the court painters and from the substantial bequest made by Pedro Fernández Durán in 1930. Most are Spanish and Italian.

In 1843 the first catalog of the collection, by Pedro de Madrazo, was published, incorporating 1,833 entries; the 1858 edition contained 2,001. The fall and exile of Isabella II in 1868 led to the dissolution of royal property rights and the reversion of all royal goods to the state. At that point the royal collection, still the core of todays Prado Museum, consisted of more than three thousand paintings.

In 1870 another collection entered the Prado, that of the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture (commonly known as the Trinity Museum, after the Convent of the Trinity in Madrid, where it was housed). The museum had been founded in 1836 to display works that had been seized from convents and monasteries in Madrid, Toledo, Avila, and Segovia under the Disentailment Decree, which had suppressed the religious orders and demanded the confiscation of church goods. There were 1,733 items in all, most of them from the seventeenth century.

The third core of the museums collection consists of acquisitions made since 1856 through purchases, bequests, gifts, offerings in lieu of taxes, and so on. In 1915 Pablo Bosch donated eighty-nine paintings, including several precious works by the Spanish Primitives (from the Gothic period); the Fernández Durán bequest of 1930 encompassed more than three thousand drawings, paintings, and objets dart. Seeking to fill a serious gap in the collections, Francisco Cambó gave the Prado several Italian Renaissance treasures, including Sandro Botticelli’s Story of Nastagio degli Onesti. Recently, funds from the Villaescusa Ferrero estate have made possible the purchase of two works by famous painters previously unrepresented in the museum: the Hurdy-Gurdy Player with a Ribbon, by Georges de La Tour, and a still life by Juan Sánchez Cotán. These are only a few of the many donations.

From 1856 on, prize-winning works from the National Fine Arts Exhibitions constituted a significant proportion of the Prado’s acquisitions. They were often placed in government offices or newly established provincial museums, as were many other canvases from the Prado. That lending practice, which was poorly implemented, ended a few years ago and has led to a reevaluation of the collections.

The entire collection of works from the National Fine Arts Exhibitions left the Prado in 1894, upon creation of the Museum of Modern Art; they returned in 1971, after the Casón del Buen Retiro was designated to house works by nineteenth-century Spanish masters. The Casón del Buen Retiro, located just a five-minute walk from the Prado, was formerly the ballroom of the Buen Retiro Palace, used for the entertainment of Philip IV and his court. This, along with the wing containing the Hall of Realms (now the Army Museum), is all that remains of the original structure, which was seriously damaged during the Napoleonic wars. It was transformed in the nineteenth century to house the Senate and features a splendid ceiling fresco representing The Order of the Golden Fleece, painted by Luca Giordano during his Spanish sojourn at the end of the seventeenth century. From 1981 to 1992 Picasso’s celebrated Guernica, painted for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, was displayed here. Today this work hangs in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the newly established national museum of contemporary art in Madrid.

The Prado suffered through perilous and heroic times during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Because the museum had attained considerable symbolic and political significance, its most important works (361 paintings, 184 drawings, and the Dauphin’s Treasure) were removed shortly after the first bombs fell on Madrid in November 1936. They followed the republican government in its peregrinations—first to Valencia, then to Catalonia, Perlada, and Figueras.

When the fall of Catalonia was imminent, in February 1939, an agreement was reached between the republican government and an international committee led by the painter José Maria Sert. The Prado’s art works, along with others from various Spanish institutions, were transported by truck across the Pyrenees, then given a temporary home in Geneva, in the Palace of the League of Nations. Some of these treasures were exhibited at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva during the summer of 1939, after peace was restored in Spain; the display of so many masterpieces riveted all who saw them. The exhibition closed on August 31, and the works were traveling through France on September 3, just as World War II exploded.

Over the last twelve years the Prado has been conducting an important campaign of renovation, which includes the installation of air conditioning and improved lighting. The implementation of expansion plans—restoring the Army Museum and the Formento Palace, as well as the Botanical Gardens–will well serve the interests of the Prado’s two million annual visitors by placing more of the museum's sublime collection on display.