As Madrid's stellar gallery turns 200, Nick Trend explores the city's lesser-known artistic treasures.
I never go to Madrid without paying a visit to its famous national art museum, the Prado. I was there recently, wondering at its endless galleries of Old Masters founded on the collection of the Habsburg monarchs who bought early works from the later Middle Ages — Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights and Rogier van der Weyden's The Descent from the Cross — as well as some of the most significant paintings of the Renaissance. And it has the most important collections of works by Spain's greatest painters, Velasquez and Goya. Las Meninas — Velasquez's mysteriously compelling and monumental self-portrait (if that's what it is) — is the centrepiece not only of the museum, but of the history of Spanish art. As for Goya, virtually all his greatest masterpieces are here.
This year, the Prado is celebrating its bicentenary. As a public museum, it is not as old as the British Museum or the Louvre, but was founded five years before the National Gallery in London. Among museums devoted mainly to paintings, only the Uffizi in Florence and the Belvedere in Vienna are older.
Together with Madrid's other two great institutions — the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, home to Picasso's Guernica — the Prado forms part of a "triangle" of world-class art that absorbs the attention of visitors to Madrid. But although I couldn't resist dropping in, the main focus of my trip this time were the smaller museums, whose treasures are often overshadowed by the city's astonishing artistic heritage.
So, if you get a chance to visit the Prado in its celebratory year, allow some extra time in Madrid. It has other treasures to enjoy.
The elegant early 20th-century home and studio of Joaquin Sorolla provides a fascinating insight into the life of Spain's most famous artist during the Belle Epoque. His two huge studios, situated at the back of the building, work as a gallery for his art, housing by far the most important collection of his works. Note that several key paintings will be absent until late autumn, while they are on loan to the National Galleries in London and Dublin. When planning a visit, allow some extra time to enjoy the shady courtyard garden.
Open: Tues-Sat, 9.30am-8pm, Sun, 10am-3pm; admission $5.
The Royal Palace
A huge fire on Christmas Eve 1734 destroyed the old Royal Alcazar and more than 500 paintings, including works by Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Rubens and Velasquez. However, many key works, including Las Meninas, were saved after being taken out of their frames and lowered from the windows. What we see today is the 18th-century rebuild. It's a splendid palace, however, and there are plenty of artistic highlights. The frescoes in the throne room were painted by Tiepolo in the 1760s and four of Goya's greatest portraits still hang here — the double pairings of King Charles IV and his queen: two in relaxed pose and two in formal regalia.
Open: daily, 10am-6pm (8pm in summer); admission $17.
San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts
The Spanish Royal Academy has an excellent permanent collection that very few tourists bother to track down. Among 13 paintings by Goya, two of his most important self-portraits hang here, as does his portrait of the Spanish prime minister and royal favourite Godoy, who commissioned the famous portraits of his mistress — the clothed and naked Majas — now in the Prado. Other works here include important paintings by Giovanni Bellini, Velazquez, Rubens, Van Dyck, El Greco, Murillo, and Zurbaran.
Open: Tues-Sun, 10am-3pm; admission $10.
Hermitage Chapel (real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida)
This small chapel, just outside the city centre, was declared a national monument in 1905 and is home to some of Goya's most charming and entertaining frescoes. The most spectacular, on the underside of the rotunda, depicts one of the miracles of St Anthony. Goya was laid to rest here although, curiously, his skull is missing.
Open: Tues-Sun, 9.30am-8pm; admission free.
Museo Lazaro Galdiano
This excellent museum, off Madrid's tourist trail, comprises the mansion built in 1903 by the financier and publisher Lazaro Galdiano and the art collection he amassed. There are paintings by Bosch, Murillo and El Greco, as well as a room full of Goyas — although the attribution of some of these is not certain.
Open: Tues-Sat, 10am-4.30pm, Sun, 10am-3pm; $10.
Another private collection in a Madrid mansion, this houses some 28,000 objets d'art amassed by the enormously wealthy archaeologist Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, 17th Marquis of Cerralbo. His luxurious Italianate residence is preserved as a museum, and among dozens of paintings on display are works mainly by Spanish masters including El Greco and Zurbaran but also a portrait by Tintoretto and a Virgin and Child by Van Dyck.
Open: Tues-Sat, 9.30am-3pm, Sun, 10am-3pm; admission $5.
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For full details of the Prado's bicentenary, tickets, opening times and admission charges see museodelprado.es