A Detailed History Prado Museum | Timeline, Major Events & More

The Prado Museum is home to one of Madrid’s valuable art collections. You can visit the museum and admire the beautiful work of Goya, Velázquez, Titian, and other European artists.

Prado Museum Timeline

1785 - Juan de Villanueva designed the building in the signature Neoclassical style.

1819 - King Ferdinand VII opened the Royal Museum, renamed the National Museum of Paintings and Sculptures and later the Museo Nacional del Prado, to the public for the first time in November 1819. Its first catalogue was published in the same year and included 311 paintings.

1881 - The museum received countless donations after its opening, with Barón Emile d'Erlanger's donation of Goya's Black Paintings in 1881 particularly significant.

2001 - Construction began to expand the museum's capacity and allow more guests to enjoy the place.

2004 - Changes were made and approved to Prado Museum's legal and statutory framework by the Museo Nacional del Prado Act, increasing its capacity to self-finance.

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Prado Museum History Explained

Prado Museum architecture

The museum took shape

18th century

Prado Museum was designed by Spanish architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785. His rise led to his selection for the museum’s construction: the Spaniard became a popular name in the 1780s. He was appointed honorary director of Architecture of the Academy, Mayor architect of Madrid, Master Mayor of the Royal Sites, and Director of Palace works in 1797.

Prado museum open to public

Open to Public


King Charles III’s grandson, King Ferdinand VII, converted the museum from a place for historical artefacts to the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures. He made the decision after encouragement from his wife, Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza, leading to the museum’s opening to the public in 1819. Visitors could admire the world’s largest collection of Spanish paintings for the first time ever and seek inspiration from Bosch, Titian, Rubens, and other artists, who dedicated their lives to decoding life and its struggles and meaning.

New paintings added in Prado Museum

New paintings added

19th century

Since its opening, Prado Museum has added new paintings to provide visitors with insight into different artists. The museum’s royal collection increased significantly in the 16th century during the time of Charles V, thriving further under the succeeding Habsburg and Bourbon Monarchs. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, The Nobleman with his hand on his Chest by El Greco, and Death of the Virgin by Mantegna are a few royal paintings part of the museum’s original collection. The 19th century saw paintings coming from the former Museo de Arte Moderno, including works by Madrazo, Vicente López, Carlos de Haes, Rosales and Sorolla.

Addition and expansion

Addition and expansion

Late-20th century and 21st century

Prado Museum’s reputation increased in the 20th century, with new works added to the collection regularly. Paintings by El Greco, Fable, The Flight to Egypt, and The Countess of Chinchón by Goya are a few paintings added to the collection in the 20th and 21st centuries. The Villanueva building underwent an expansion to accommodate the new works, but soon it couldn’t. Prado Museum’s authorities started constructing a new building located on the same site and interconnecting the two buildings from within. The project took six years and coincided with the museum’s modernization efforts.

Construction of the Prado Museum

Prado Museum is the heart of Madrid, literally and figuratively. It is a vital part of the city’s culture, housing invaluable artworks by legendary Spanish and European artists. The museum’s construction reflects its worth. Spanish architect Juan de Villanueva, a rising name at the time, constructed the building in neoclassical style, seeking inspiration from the grandeur of Greek and Roman temples.

As a result, Prado Museum’s original design featured a majestic facade adorned with Corinthian columns, elegant archways, and symmetrical layouts. With time, the building underwent expansions and renovations to accommodate an ever-growing collection of art. Today, the museum feels modern but has the same neoclassical exterior design that visitors adore. Inside is an unparalleled array of masterpieces from Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, and Titian.

Prado Museum Today

Prado Museum

Prado Museum is an iconic symbol of Spain's cultural heritage and Europe’s history with artists. With a past spanning over two centuries, the museum continues to captivate visitors, drawing them into a world of history and creativity.

The Prado houses an impressive collection of European masterpieces, showcasing the works of Velázquez, Goya, Rembrandt, and Bosch. The diverse paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts offer a profound insight into the evolution of European art over the centuries.

More About Prado Museum

Prado Museum’s collection grew since its opening in the 18th century. Donations poured in, and the building was unable to accommodate the new works by the end of the 20th century.

An ambitious expansion plan was laid out, and construction began in 2001, while the museum’s efforts towards modernization gathered steam in 2004. Changes to its legal and statutory framework were approved to allow the museum to self-finance and gain autonomy. The museum's status was made effective by the Museo Nacional del Prado Act, in November 2003, and a subsequent amending Statute approved by Royal Decree in 2004.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Prado Museum's History

What is the historical significance of the Prado Museum?

Prado Museum is one of Madrid’s most significant museums. It houses valuable works by Spanish and European artists and royal collections with over 1000 paintings.

How old is the Prado Museum?

The Prado Museum is over two centuries old.

How many years did it take to build the Prado Museum?

The Prado Museum was constructed in 1785, but it isn’t clear how long it took to build the museum.

What is the historical context in which the Prado Museum was created?

The Prado Museum was opened by King Charles III to house the Natural History Cabinet.

Who designed Prado Museum?

Spanish architect Juan de Villanueva designed the Prado Museum in 1785.

What is the architectural style of the Prado Museum?

The Prado Museum has a neoclassical architectural style.

What events or incidents have shaped the history of the Prado Museum?

The Prado Museum wasn’t affected by any major events or incidents in history.

What are some lesser-known historical facts or anecdotes about the Prado Museum?

Changes were made to Prado Museum’s legal and statutory framework, allowing it to self-finance and gain autonomy. The museum's status was made effective by the Museo Nacional del Prado Act, in November 2003, and a subsequent amending Statute approved by Royal Decree in 2004.

Are there guided tours explaining the Prado Museum’s history?

Yes. Prado Museum guided tours are available.