When the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture was opened in 1819, the aim was to create a museum that would house the best and most representative Spanish pictorial and sculptural works of art. On 19 November, 311 paintings, that until then had belonged to the Royal Collection, could now be admired and enjoyed by all visitors to the Museum.
Today, almost 200 years after its inauguration, the Prado Museum is one of the world’s most visited museums, and it is widely considered to have one of the world's finest collections of European art.
Did you know that…?
The Prado was originally conceived in 1785, under the orders of King Charles III, to house the Natural History Cabinet. This ambitious project was one of the attempts to modernize Spain introducing the new proposals and studies of the French Enlightenment. Together with the nearby Botanical Gardens and the Royal Observatory it was meant to position Madrid as an active center for study, research and dissemination of all Sciences.
Ironically, the invasion of the French troops interrupted all these plans. Spain fell into a period of social and political unrest and a terrible war that devastated the country. The brand-new building was confiscated by the military to be used as Cavalry headquarters. This old site was destroyed by the war and it was only by the interest and effort of Isabel de Brangaza, Ferdinand VII´s second wife, that in 1818 the king initiated the reconstruction of the building. All costs were covered by the king´s personal accounts and it was considered property of the Crown.
On November 19th, 1819 Ferdinand VII inaugurated the building as the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures an idea that his father, King Charles IV, had already outlined prior to the arrival of the Napoleonic troops. Initially inspired in the Louvre, this new museum was to house the most exquisite works of the Royal Collection. That year, a selection of 311 works were displayed in three different halls.
Almost 50 years later and due to all the changes in legislation the Museum became part of the 'Property of the Nation' in 1868 after the deposition of Queen Isabella II. At this time it also changed its name, as from then on it would be known as the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture. It was subsequently renamed El Museo Nacional del Prado (The Prado Museum), which it is still known as today.
Over the course of two centuries the Prado Museum has witnessed many historical events and changes in Spain, but the Museum changed as well. As time went by, this new site became the depository of all other collections and soon became not only the center of reference for Spanish Art , but also needed to expand its premises. The last and one of the most significant ones was completed in 2007 under the orders and design of Rafael Moneo.
In 2019, 200 years after it first opened to the public, the Prado Museum now has a collection of almost thirty thousand pieces, of which only a small part is on display. Through its works of art the museum recounts both the history of the artwork and its own history as well. One could say that the museum has outgrown itself to become an exquisite showcase that portrays life through art.
As Jeremy Irons says paraphrasing Picasso:
“Art washes away from the soul
the dust of everyday life”.
7 are the main nationalities among the artists whose works are on display. Although the museum’s aim was to become a museum for Spanish art, works by artists from other nationalities have been added over the years, including the Italian school, the Flemish school and the French school.
15 are the paintings considered as unique. An example of these are Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez; The Shootings of May 2, by Francisco Goya; The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch; or The Three Graces, by Pedro Pablo Rubens.
152 are the paintings from Francisco de Goya that are displayed. Goya is the most represented artist in the Prado museum.
311 are the initial pieces that started the Royal Art Collection. Currently the museum exhibits 1,150 works although the Prado's collection exceeds 25,000 pieces.
3,672,853 people visited the Prado Museum in 2018. The number of visitors to the Museum is increasing year on year; in 2016 there were over three million visitors for the first time.
4,274,992 are the videos viewed on YouTube. Apart from the website, the Museum has a very active presence on the other social networks.
7 million is the number of visits registered by the website. A good sign of how the museum is still going strong in all media. With times, the museum has adapted to offer new forms of communication and information that reflect the changes and tendencies of Spanish society.
The Prado Museum is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, an important milestone in the history of the Museum, which proves that it still has much to contribute to the development of art worldwide in the coming times.