on January 14, 2013
Anything beautiful created by human hands as a consequence of the clever manipulation of material can be classified as a work of art. Art therefore includes works from antiquity characterized by uniqueness or distinctiveness, handmade furniture of remarkable décor or style, sculptures handcrafted from wood, stone, bronze or precious materials, faience and decorative tableware made from fine porcelain and… needless to say, endless collections of paintings that provide an exceptional spectacular enrichment to many homes, churches and museums.In the light of this line of reasoning, Madrid’s Museo del Prado is not a museum of art since the word art instinctively signifies a wide and miscellaneous mix of all the forms of human conceptions and achievements. The Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St Petersburg can both be rightly classified as museums of art because each incorporates an integration of the four main varieties of art: antiques, decorative arts, sculptures and paintings. In addition to this interfusion of art forms, the group of buildings that contain the art treasures of the Louvre Museum embodies a great display of sumptuous ornamentation, gilded wood panelling, elaborately carved friezes and elegantly decorated ceilings. The same applies to St Petersburg’s Winter Palace where the rich reserves of the Hermitage Museum are immaculately kept. While the walls of the Winter Palace may contain more gold ornamentation and coloured drapery than the Louvre, the latter is perhaps more impressive, better illuminated and undeniably less gaudy.Madrid’s Museo del Prado is none of this. Although the huge palace in which it is housed is a wonder of neo-classical architecture with halls of extravagant proportions, high ceilings, orderly rows of windows and majestic staircases, it nevertheless lacks the ostentatious ornamentation and finesse that turn the Louvre and the Hermitage into showplaces of refinement, transcendence and matchless beauty. The Museo del Prado is undeniably one of the world’s predominant exhibition spaces but it does not incorporate artworks that are as varied and divergent as to appeal to all lovers of art, whatever their taste and preference. In short, Madrid’s greatest museum is an exposition and unquestionably a grand one of only one form of art in which it excels and excels with distinction. It is a museum of paintings par excellence. With the exception of a small collection of classical sculptures (scattered here and there throughout the museum), a score of eighteenth-century consoles and a few ceramics, all the halls and rooms are devoted to classical paintings.In fact, a visit to the Prado is an encounter with some of the world’s greatest paintings, an endless display of stunning classical pictures that hang elegantly to demonstrate the artistic competence of their creators. Don’t expect to find three-dimensional collections in marble or wood; neither should one expect to find an assortment of period furniture embellished with fine marquetry or ebony. But the absence of all this does not in any way signify that the Prado is not a must-see. Even those whose interest in classical paintings does not venture beyond a passing glance will find in the exhibits a charismatic appeal that spurs them on to stay and explore. Be it the light emerging from one of Rembrandt’s masterpieces or the darkness that haunts the monochromatic ‘black’ paintings of Goya, be it the facial expression of young children in a Murillo scene or the wonderful composition of depth and perspective in a Velazquez masterpiece, each attraction in the Prado is an experience that requires time to digest and cherish its beauty. The longer one stays in front of a preferred attraction, the longer one pores over its details, the better becomes one’s ability to appreciate its composition, colours, style, aesthetics and artistic worth. Madrid’s Prado is a colossal exposition centre and a single visit lasting only a few hours cannot afford anything more than a general overview of the exhibits. On the other hand, a full day tour is too exacting and strenuous and so it is definitely not recommended. One solution that I found ideal for those whose stay in Madrid is longer than a couple of days is to make repeated short visits on successive days, each visit covering just a few rooms at leisure. This gives one the opportunity to view the exhibits exhaustively and in detail. The price of a normal admission ticket was 12 Euro when I visited and so several entries will raise the cost exorbitantly. All this can be avoided if one makes use of the price concession allowed for visits made on weekdays from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and on Sundays from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Surprisingly for such a world-renowned showcase of paintings, admission to the museum during these times comes for free, although a blank ticket is nonetheless required. Make sure to come here early, possibly one hour before the time of free admission commences because queues may be long and being at the end of the queue does not guarantee entry or else reduces the time inside considerably. If your time in Madrid is limited to just a short stopover and several short visits to the Prado are out of the question, it is advisable to organize your visit from home, preferably using a printed museum-plan catalogue that lists the exhibits and points out the respective location of each. Buying a catalogue of the Prado over the internet is child’s play but in the absence of a printed version, one can still consult the official Prado website for a plan and a rough indication of where to find one’s selected exhibits. Being selective is crucial if one’s tour of the Prado is limited to a few hours; otherwise, one will have to run alongside the exhibits seeing everything but relishing nothing. It is therefore advisable to stick to the works of a handful of preferred artists, dedicating your time and concentrating your attention on these rather than trying to eat more than you can chew. The Prado has just gone through a major three-year refurbishment and expansion project that has extended the exhibition space substantially and has added the number of exhibits on permanent display by more than five hundred. The arrangement of the exhibits was made more visitor-friendly so as to render a selective tour of the museum painless and easy to navigate.Entry to the museum is currently through the Velazquez Gate in front of which one encounters the bronze statue of Diego Velazquez sitting comfortably with paintbrush in hand. On the north façade, right in front of the majestic statue of the standing Goya is the grand double staircase that leads to the Goya entrance, the most imposing doorway that puts one right into the heart of the spectacle. For a reason I couldn’t make out, this was regrettably closed when I visited and guests were directed to the Velazquez Gate. The Jeronimos Gate on a side façade is mainly used for large groups of visitors with reservations. The new arrangement of the museum comprises four floors. The basement level has only one room that can be visited and unless one is fascinated by decorative ceramics, one can skip this altogether. The display here known as the Dauphin’s Treasure is just an insignificant collection of vases and tableware and is not worth one’s time unless one has all the time in the world at his disposal.On the ground floor, a large section is dedicated to a collection of Spanish paintings, the latter forming the largest compilation of pictures in the Prado. Aptly sorted out into two groups (prior seventeenth century in Rooms 12 to 16, post seventeenth century in Rooms 90 to 100), this collection is undoubtedly one of the museum’s main attractions. Not only are the pictures artistically beautiful but in a subtle way, they trace the development of Spanish paintings through four centuries of artistic achievements. As an extra attraction, apparently drawing larger crowds than all the other Spanish paintings together is the collection of Goyas, a priceless set of oils deservedly placed in three separate but adjoining rooms (Rooms 87 to 89).The first floor accommodates the cream of the crop and so should be given priority above anything else. As a rule, each room on this floor is set apart completely for works created by one particular artist. Velazquez has five rooms (Rooms 41 and 49 to 52) to his credit, Goya has another five (Rooms 69 to 73) besides three more on the ground floor, Murillo and El Greco have three each, Ribera and Zurbaran have two each. Spanish paintings apart, ten more rooms on this floor are dedicated to seventeenth-century Italian paintings, an outstanding collection of Renaissance masterpieces and religious pictures by Italy’s greatest artists. (Yes, Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro is here!)The seventeen rooms on the top floor contain Flemish paintings by Rubens and Brueghel and eighteenth-century Spanish paintings. If you are short on time, give these a miss and concentrate on the Goya Tapestries, an exceptional exposition of ornamental woven drapery spread inside six adjoining rooms.
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