Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Prado Museum, Museo del Prado

Museo del Prado

Prado Museum

The Prado Museum is the Spanish national art museum and one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century. The collection comprises around 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, and 1,000 sculptures.

A Tour of the Prado Museum

Highlights of the Prado Museum

  • “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
    • “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez is a complex and mysterious composition which, when studied, creates an ambiguous relationship between the audience and the various subjects in this painting. The complex arrangement of Las Meninas has made this painting one of the most analyzed masterpieces in Western art.“Las Meninas” depicts a room in The Royal Alcázar of Madrid. It was a fortress located at the site of today’s Royal Palace of Madrid, during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain. The figures in the painting are all real historical members of the Spanish court. The young Infanta Margaret Theresa is in the center of her entourage of maids of honor, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs, and a dog. Infanta was the title for the daughter of the ruling monarch of Spain, especially the eldest daughter, who was not heir to the throne.
  • “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez
    • “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez depicts Bacchus surrounded by drunks. The work represents Bacchus as the god who rewards men with wine, releasing them from their problems. Bacchus was considered an allegory of the liberation of man from the slavery of daily life. Commissioned by King Philip IV, Velázquez had studied the king’s collection of Italian paintings and especially the treatment of mythological subjects. In this work, Velázquez adopted a realist treatment of a mythological subject, an approach he pursued during his career.The composition is divided into two halves. On the left, is the luminous Bacchus figure, and the character behind him is represented in the traditional loose robes used for depictions of classical myth. The idealization of the Bacchus’s face is highlighted by the light which illuminates him in a classical style.
  • “Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael
    • “Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael shows Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion, at the moment when he fell. The foreground of the painting is densely packed with emotional responses, especially his mother’s agony.Simon of Cyrene, who is centered above Christ, is lifting Christ’s cross momentarily. The four Marys are depicted on the bottom right side of the painting. Towering on either side of the composition are Roman guards.
  • “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
    • “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder depicts an army of skeletons wreaking havoc across a burnt and burning desolate landscape. Fires burn in the distance, and there are shipwrecks in the sea. In this scorched and barren landscape, the skeletons massacre the living, who seem to be surrounded. People are herded into a coffin-shaped trap decorated with crosses, while a skeleton on horseback is killing people with a scythe. The painting depicts all of humanity from peasants and soldiers to nobles as well as a king and a cardinal being overtaken by the “Triumph of Death.” The scene is this painting is full of sub-stories of human vanity and our inability to escape death.
  • “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya
    • “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya depicts the Greek myth of the Titan, who fears that he would be overthrown by one of his children, so he ate each one of his children upon their birth. The work is one of the 14 Black Paintings that Goya painted directly onto the walls of his house sometime between 1819 and 1823. It was transferred to the canvas after Goya’s death and has since been held in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.According to Roman myth, which was inspired by the original Greek myth, it had been foretold that one of the sons of Saturn (Cronus in the Greek original myth) would overthrow him, just as Saturn had overthrown his father. To prevent this, Saturn ate his children moments after each was born. His wife Ops eventually hid his third son, Jupiter, on the island of Crete, and deceived Saturn by offering a stone wrapped in swaddling in his place. Jupiter eventually supplanted his father Saturn, just as the prophecy had predicted.
  • “The Third of May 1808” by Francisco Goya
    • “The Third of May 1808” by Francisco Goya depicts the early hours of the morning after the uprising in May 1808 by the people of Madrid against the occupation of the city by French troops. Goya portrays the French as a rigidly firing squad, and the citizens are represented as a disorganized group of captives held at gunpoint. Executioners and victims face each other in a confined space. The Spanish uprising had provoked harsh repression by the French forces.Goya has contrasted the disciplined line of rifles, with the chaotic individual reactions of the citizens. A square lantern sits on the ground between the two groups throwing a dramatic light on the scene. The light highlights the fallen victims to the left where a monk is praying. The central figure is lit brightly by the lantern and is a man kneeling amid the corpses of those already executed; his arms flung wide in defiance. His yellow and white clothing mirrors the colors of the lantern. His plain white shirt and sun-burnt face show he is a laborer. The firing squad, engulfed in shadow are portrayed as an integrated unit, their bayonets, and headgear forming a solid line.
  • “The Judgment of Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens
    • “The Judgment of Paris” by Peter Paul Rubens shows Rubens’ version of idealized feminine beauty, with the goddesses Venus, Minerva, and Juno on righthand. Mercury accompanies Paris on the left side. “The Judgement of Paris” is a story from Greek mythology. It is one of the events that led to the Trojan War. In the later Roman version of the story, it was also one of the events that led to the foundation of Rome. The story of the Judgement of Paris offered artists the opportunity to depict a beauty contest between three beautiful female nudes.The Greek myth started when Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of Achilles. Unfortunately, Eris, the goddess of discord, was not invited, as she would have made the party unpleasant for everyone. Eris arrived uninvited and angry at the celebration with a golden apple, which she threw into the proceedings as a prize of beauty. Three goddesses claimed the apple Hera (Juno), Athena (Minerva), and Aphrodite (Venus). They asked Zeus to judge which of them was fairest, reluctant to decide himself; he declared that Paris, a Trojan mortal, would judge their cases
  • “Adam and Eve” by Peter Paul Rubens
    • “Adam and Eve” by Peter Paul Rubens depict the first man and woman at the point when Eve is deceived into eating fruit from the forbidden tree, and then she gives some of the fruit to Adam. The story of Adam and Eve is often depicted in art, and it has had a significant influence on literature and poetry. The story of the fall is commonly understood to be an allegory.According to the Bible, God created Adam from dust and places him in the Garden of Eden. Adam is told that he could eat freely of all the trees in the garden, except for a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Subsequently, Eve is created as Adam’s companion, and they are innocent and unembarrassed about their nakedness. However, after eating fruit from the forbidden tree, God curses and banishes them from the Garden of Eden.
  • “The Holy Trinity” by El Greco
    • “The Holy Trinity” by El Greco is a dramatic and expressionistic depiction of Jesus Christ ascending into heaven following his journey on Earth. The Trinity is represented by God the Father, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit symbolized as a dove. Six grieving angels watch over the uprising of the body, while small, cherub faces gather at his feet.El Greco skilfully captures the weight of Christ’s body by placing the elongated Christ figure at an awkward angle. El Greco’s use of brilliant colors and the emotion imbued into the faces make this masterpiece a moving example of religious art.  This painting is one of El Greco´s first commissioned pieces in Toledo. It was created for the attic of the main altarpiece at the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo.
  • “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by El Greco
    • “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by El Greco depicts a traditional subject that El Greco returned to during the last year of his life. El Greco made this painting to hang over his tomb in a church in Toledo. The elongation of the bodies characterizes this masterpiece, as it did, all of the pictures of El Greco’s last years in Toledo, Spain. The infant Christ emits a light that plays off the faces of the witnesses who have gathered to pay homage to his birth. The contrasts between light and dark promote the sense of drama, as do the group of angels that hover over the scene in tribute to the infant Christ.Doménikos Theotokópoulos, widely known as El Greco, Spanish for “The Greek,” was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. The artist frequently signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), often adding the word Κρής (Krēs, “Cretan”). He is best known for elongated figures and for marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western painting.
  • “Self-Portrait with Gloves” by Albrecht Dürer
    • “Self-portrait at 26” by Albrecht Dürer is the second of the German Renaissance artist, three self-portraits. In this self-portrait, Dürer proudly depicts himself as he believed best reflected an artist of his ability. Painted after his first trip to Italy, he is drawn with a proud bearing and the assured self-confidence of a young artist at the height of his ability. Dürer’s image dominates the space as he rests his hands in beautiful luxurious silk gloves, and he wears the high fashion of the Italian and German Renaissance. Dürer presents himself with a seductive look, wearing a draped hat with a tassel over his long, curled blond hair locks. He looks out at the viewer with a cool, ironic stare. His third self-portrait, “Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight,” three years later, has a very different mood.In this self-portrait, Dürer shows himself before an open window with a view of a landscape with a lake before distant snow-capped mountains. The scenery is representing either the memory of his recent travels abroad or his inner mental state. Dürer is dressed in flamboyant, extravagant clothes showing the influence of Italian fashion. His low-necked shirt is of fine linen, gathered and trimmed with a band of gold braid embroidery, and worn under an open-fronted doublet and a cloak tied over one shoulder.
  • “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez
    • “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez depicts a military victory in 1624 during the Eighty Years War. The Eighty Years’ War or “Dutch War of Independence” (1568–1648) was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands.Velázquez shows the end of the “Siege of Breda,” which was one of Spain’s last significant victories in the Eighty Years’ War. Velázquez composed “The Surrender of Breda” into two halves, which included the Dutch leader Justinus van Nassau, on the left and Spanish Genoese general, Spinola on the right. He presents the Spanish as a potent force but also shows facial expressions of fatigue, providing a personal view of the reality to war.
  • “Christ Crowned with Thorns” by Anthony van Dyck
    • “Christ Crowned with Thorns” by Anthony van Dyck depicts Christ surrounded by figures who are mocking him. An armed soldier is placing the Crown of Thorns on his head. The executioner is pulling his hair, and another offers him a cane as his scepter. Two other figures watch the scene through a window.Van Dyck started this painting aged 20 during his first Antwerp period when he was the leading studio assistant and pupil of Peter Paul Rubens. It shows Rubens’ influence in its chiaroscuro and realistic portrayal of musculature. However, van Dyck seems to have made significant changes early during his stay in Italy, showing the influence of Titian and other Venetian painters in Jesus’ face.

Spanish Proverbs

Museo del Prado, Madrid

  • Name:              Prado Museum
  • Spanish:           Museo del Prado
  • City:                  Madrid
  • Established:      819
  • Type:                 Art Museum, Historic Site
  • Location:           Paseo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

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“The habit doesn’t make the monk.”
– Spanish Proverb


Photo Credit: Brian Snelson [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons