The Central Gallery
July, 2011.- The recent work on the Central Gallery, which benefited from the advice of Rafael Moneo, included the reinstatement of various architectural elements that had been lost during previous restoration campaigns. In the north section, an eighteenth-century window that opens on to the ground floor courtyard had been blocked up for many years but has now been reopened to allow for the entry of more natural light into the display space. Another restored element is the door that leads into the Ionic Gallery (which will be restored in 2012 to house sculpture), the opening of which had been demolished, while a glass fanlight has been installed above the large doorway that leads into the Goya Rotunda, allowing for a view of Villanueva's great Ionic capitals from the Central Gallery. At the other end of the Gallery the original doors that lead into the corridors (which will soon be reopened) have been reinstated and now open onto the rooms displaying Goya and eighteenth-century European painting.
The Central Gallery now houses 59 works, almost all of large format in consonance with this large, light-filled space. The Gallery now functions as the principal axis of the new presentation of the Museum's collections. Once inside room 24, which acts as the ante-room to the Central Gallery when entering from the Goya Rotunda, the visitor will see sixteenth-century Venetian painting starting with the Habsburg royal portraits of Philip II and Elizabeth of Portugal by Titian, in addition to that artist's great devotional image of The Glory. Commissioned by Charles V, it includes portraits of members of the imperial family as well as the artist's own self-portrait (room 24). Starting in the first section of the Central Gallery (rooms 25-26), the route continues with masterpieces of Venetian painting such as the two Burials of Christ by Titian, Tintoretto's great Christ washing the Disciples' Feet and Venus and Adonis by Paolo Veronese. These canvases are followed by some of the Museum's masterpieces of seventeenth-century Italian painting, including Venus, Adonis and Cupid by Annibale Carracci, Moses rescued from the Nile by Orazio Gentileschi, and The Virgin of the Chair by Guido Reni.
The centre of the Gallery (room 27) marks the heart of the Museum. Here, the work of Velázquez connects with the Venetian tradition (displayed in the first sections of this space) and with the work of Rubens (at the end). The new hanging is particularly striking here, offering a visual encounter between Las Meninas and the other royal portraits by Velázquez in room 12 and Titian's most important portrait in the Prado, Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg, as well as his portraits of Charles V with a Dog and Philip II. The result is to reveal the influence of Venetian portraiture on Velázquez.
The final section of the Gallery (rooms 28 and 29) focuses on seventeenth-century Flemish painting. It displays 31 paintings by Rubens, ranging from the small oil sketches for the decoration of the Torre de la Parada (measuring only a few centimeters across and displayed in a glass case), to the largest work by the artist in the Prado, The Adoration of the Magi, measuring almost 4 meters wide. This space also displays Rubens's great panel painting of The Three Graces.
Aside from the new features described above, which result from the redisplay of this part of the collection, the route through the Gallery is complemented by the sculptures that have traditionally been displayed here, as well as by the Table-top of Philip II and the Table of don Rodrigo Calderón, both resting on the bronze lions acquired by Velázquez for the decoration of the Alcázar during his second trip to Italy.