Ode to Spanish art

Ode to Spanish art

Spain has always reeled in tourists from across the world for its beauty and rich culture. Apart from the usual sights, the country is a haven for art connoisseurs and enthusiastswho throng the Prado Museum, writes Aruna Chandaraju.

Paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, historic documents and decorative works of art in gold — thousands of them in all. And together rated as of the world’s finest collections of European art! The Prado Museum in Madrid requires several daylong visits to do justice. And all we had was half a day!

Determined to make the most of our time, we hurried over to the museum entrance. A big dampener was the rule forbidding photography. At the sprawling basement area of the museum, which was teeming with visitors, guides and security personnel, we were asked to put away our carry bags and cameras.

The galleries were spacious, well-lit, high-ceilinged, and immaculately maintained. The Museo del Prado –– the original Spanish name –– is the main Spanish national art museum and has priceless works of art ranging from the classical age to the last century. It includes works by masters such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian, etc., we learnt.

A visual treat

We were also told that hundreds of works are currently on loan to other museums or exhibited at other locations. However, we realised that we were seeing much more than visitors years ago did, after learning that a recently added new building has increased the space available for displays.

The Spanish paintings constitute the largest and most important such collection (for Spanish paintings) in the world –– there are about 4,800 works including many masterpieces from widely known artists.

The largest number of works by any single artist in the collection is that of Goya — about 140. Another renowned Spanish artist represented here is Velazquez. His famous work, ‘Las Meninas’, is displayed here. A large bronze statue of his is positioned prominently at one of the main entrances to the museum. This well-known artist not only gave his works to be displayed, but was also instrumental in bringing to the museum many priceless works of Italian art.

Apart from these, there are Italian (by Raphael, Titian, Messina, Mantegna, Botticelli, etc.), Flemish, French (Poussin, Lorraine, etc.), German, Dutch (Rembrandt including his well-known ‘Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes’), and British paintings.

We had to tear ourselves away from one masterpiece in order to make time for several other spectacular works displayed in the same gallery. And leave one gallery reluctantly for an adjoining one, also full of arresting pieces. Such is the abundance of great art in this museum.

Museo Del Prado boasts over 900 sculptures, apart from 200 fragments. There are classical (from the Archaic, Hellenistic periods, etc.), Renaissance and Baroque sculptures with a few Oriental and Medieval pieces also included. We noticed the large variety of materials used –– there were works in enamelled copper, bronze, polychrome wood, marble, alabaster, etc.

Ancient sculptures

We saw lifesize sculptures as well as busts mounted on pedestals, and reliefs. A celebrated work in bronze is that of the 16th century ‘Carlos V and the Fury’.
The collection of prints and drawings is huge –– about 4,800 works in the former category, and over 8,200 drawings.

‘The Dauphin’s Treasure’ is the jewel in the crown when it comes to the Decorative Arts collection, and is from the royal collection. There are several stunningly beautiful pieces. Pottery, furniture (consoles, pietra-dura tables, wedding chests), tapestries, ceramics, porcelain, embroidery, fans, weapons and medals are among the varieties of objects that figure in this exquisite, wide-ranging collection. 

Students and research scholars are provided facilities through the Library, Documentation and Archive Department. There are about 70,000 monographs and 1,000 titles of periodicals on occidental art, and the Archive has over 3,000 boxes on the history of the museum and its collections. Whew! A great deal in store for the academically inclined.

The museum has thus come a long way from the days of King Charles the Third, who took the initiative in the late 18th century to use the royal collections and create one museum under one roof. His grandson Ferdinand the 7th and Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza contributed immensely by creating the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculpture. Decades later, the collections passed from the hands of royalty to the control of the Spanish government. Subsequently, the Prado Museum has grown through acquisitions and additions from private collectors who have left their collections to this museum.

Navigating through such a sprawling museum with thousands of objects of art can be daunting. Of course, there are guides to take you around. But the arrangement is very visitor-friendly, the different areas are clearly demarcated, and there are lots of useful maps at hand.

Also, understanding that not every visitor has equal time to see the museum and always faces the question of what to see, the museum offers three routes for those who have only one, two or three hours respectively to see the museum. This, in effect, optimises whatever time you have, enabling you to view the most important works of the museum.

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