Prado Museum History

Prado Museum History: A Look Into One of the Greatest Art Museums in Spain

One of the most important museums in all of Spain, Prado Museum Madrid (Museo Nacional del Prado) is known to have the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art and one of the most outstanding collections of European Art between the 12th century to the early 20th century. One of the greatest art museums in the world, it houses works by Spanish Greats like Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez, among others, and is visited by millions each year. Read on to learn about the Prado Museum history.

Prado Museum History

Renowned architect Juan de Villanueva designed the building that houses Prado Museum in 1785 in his signature Neoclassical architecture style. While it was originally commissioned for the National History Cabinet by King Charles III, his grandson King Ferdinand VII, motivated by his wife Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza, eventually decided to have it house the new Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. The goal of this museum was to display the magnificent collection curated by the royal family. The venue was subsequently renamed the National Museum of Paintings and Sculptures, before finally getting its current name — Museo Nacional del Prado. The museum opened to the public in November 1819. 

At the time of opening, the museum was exclusively devoted to Spanish paintings and had a little over 300 paintings in its catalogue. Over time, it managed to amass a collection of works by Flemish, Italian, German, and French artists as well. Its collection saw a significant increase under the patronage of Charles V in the 16th century and saw a consistent rise as other monarchs came to power. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, the footfall of the museum rose exponentially. In order to accommodate the visitors, the museum was expanded as much as possible, with additions being made to the original Villanueva building. The museum is set to expand further, having bought 61,500 square feet of space with their purchase of the Buen Retiro palace's Hall of Realms.

Today, Museo del Prado has around 7,500 paintings, along with dedicated sections for sculptures & decorative arts, and print, drawings, and photographs. Prado Museum, along with Reina Sofía Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, forms Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art. As visitors walk around Villanueva's imposing building, not only will they get to enjoy the works of famous artists, but also revel in Prado Museum's history.

What to See at Prado Museum

prado museum history

Some of the famous artists represented at Museo del Prado include Albrecht Dürer, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Rogier van der Weyden, Rembrandt, Pieter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Francisco Goya, among others. In 2021, the museum also announced that it would be adding more works by female artists to its permanent exhibition as well. 

Plan Your Visit to Prado Museum
prado museum history

When it comes to the best paintings in the Prado Museum, visitors must not miss Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas, Tiepolo's The Immaculate Conception, Goya's collection of The Black Paintings (which includes the famous Saturn Devouring His Son), Garden of Delights by Hyeronimus Bosch, Rembrandt's Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes, and The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel. The museum also has recently acquired Goya's first-ever documented work, Aníbal vencedor que por primera vez mira a Italia desde los Alpes (Victorious Hannibal Who for the First Time Looks at Italy from the Alps).

Prado Museum: Donated Art

The Museo del Prado has notably received many artworks and artefacts donated by patrons since its inception. Be it Pablo Bosch's bequest of medals or Ramón de Errazu's donation of 19th-century paintings, the museum has a long history of such benefactions. One of the most notable of these is the endowment of Francisco Goya's Black Paintings series by Barón Emile d'Erlanger's in 1881. The Black Paintings are 14 in number and are a portrayal of haunting themes that show Goya's bleak outlook of life at the time. In 2013, Prado Museum saw the biggest donation in decades by a Barcelona-based businessman who donated a dozen medieval and Renaissance works by Spanish artists.

Prado Museum History: Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Prado Museum important?

Prado Museum is considered one of the most important art museums in the world thanks to its extensive collection of Spanish paintings, unmatched by any other museum in the world. It is also home to some masterpieces from other European nations, primarily Flemish & Italian art.

When was the Prado Museum built?

Museo del Prado was designed in 1785 but only opened to the public in November 1819.

How many paintings does the Prado Museum have?

Prado Museum houses over 7,500 paintings, along with sculptures, decorative arts, prints, photographs, and more.

Where is the Las Meninas painting?

Las Meninas painting by Diego Velazquez can be found in Level 1 - Room 12 of the Prado Museum Madrid.

What should I not miss at the Prado Museum?

While every single work of art displayed at Prado Museum is worth a visit some of the works you should not miss include Diego Velazquez's Las Meninas, Fransisco Goya's Third of May, and Bosch's Garden of Delights.