The Casón formed part of the ensemble of buildings that comprised the Buen Retiro Palace, of which only the Casón and the Salón de Reinos now survive.
The Casón was designed by Alonso Carbonel, Chief Master of Works of the Buen Retiro Palace, who completed the plans by 1637 although the building was not finished until some years later. Inside, notable features include the paintings in the Salón de Baile (Ball Room) executed by Lucas Giordano around 1697. The building is completely disguised by the re-modelling undertaken in the last third of the 19th century, including the two monumental façades that were designed by the architects Mariano Carderera and Ricardo Velázquez Bosco.
Since the time it was built to house the Palace’s Salón de Baile, the Casón has been altered on numerous occasions and used for a wide variety of purposes, particularly over the last two centuries, as follows:
- Between 1834 and 1877 it was used among other purposes as the Cámara del Estamento de Próceres (the forerunner of the modern-day Senate or Upper House) , the Royal Topographical Cabinet, and as a gymnasium for Prince Alfonso. During the latter period, in 1868, the Crown’s possessions were seized and the City Council of Madrid took over the running of the Buen Retiro.
- From 1877 to 1960 the Casón housed the Museo de Reproducciones Artísticas, created on the initiative of the then President of the Government, Antonio Canovas del Castillo. In 1960, when that museum was moved to the Museo de América, the Casón was used as a temporary exhibition space by the State Office of Fine Arts until 1971. At that point it was handed over to the Museo del Prado for the display of its 19th-century collections which had formerly been in the Museo de Arte Moderno.
- From 1971 to 1981 the Prado exhibited its 19th-century paintings and sculptures in the Casón. In 1981 Picasso’s Guernica arrived in Spain and became part of the Museum’s collection, resulting in the need to dismantle the display on the main floor in order to install Picasso’s bequest in the Salón de Luca Giordano (the former Salón de Baile). The 19th-century collection was thus re-hung in the rest of the building, at times with difficulty due to the narrow dimensions of the rooms and the large size of the paintings.
- In 1992, Guernica was moved to the recently-established Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. As a result, the 19th-century collection was re-displayed in the Casón. With the Royal Decree governing Collections of 1994, the Prado once more had to re-organise the display of these works in different rooms. This display remained in situ until 1997 when the building was closed for its most recent re-modelling and enlargement.