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History of the Museo del Prado and its Buildings

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 3/17/2021 - ...

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This new display, produced with the collaboration of Samsung, offers visitors a survey of the more than 200-year history of Spain’s leading cultural institution while also enhancing the quality of the museum’s discourse.

Curated by Víctor Cageao, Director of Buildings and the Natural Environment at Patrimonio Nacional and formerly General Coordinator of Programming at the Museo del Prado, with the support of the documentalist Teresa Prieto, this display occupies Rooms 100, 101 and 102 (all original spaces by Villanueva) which have been completely remodelled according to a design by the architect Desirée González.

Among the 265 items on display are more than 50 photographs, including numerous early ones, 9 architectural models, documents, postcards, prints, plans and objects from the everyday life of the museum which together introduce visitors to the Prado’s more than 200 years of history. Particularly notable exhibits record the appointment of Picasso as Director of the Museum; the award of the Princess of Austurias Prize to the Museum in 2019; a poster with the prices of entry tickets from the 1920s; and a cupboard with old restoration tools and equipment.

The Museo del Prado opened its doors for the first time on 19 November 1819 with the name of Real Museo de Pintura y Escultura. That early museum displayed only 311 works, all of them by Spanish painters. Now, 200 years on, the Museo del Prado is considered Spain’s leading cultural institution, shared cultural patrimony of which all Spaniards are proud and a legacy of incalculable value in the history of culture.

Taking the evolution of the Museum’s architecture as its guiding thread, this new installation offers a reflection on the historical and political events which transformed the initial Real Museo into the public institution of international renown which it is today. In parallel, the display shows the changes and modifications that have come about over time in terms of the Museum’s public image, its staff, publications, research, visitors, principal exhibitions and activities.

The display aims to introduce visitors to the transformations of an institution that is a reflection of the history of Spain itself. These physical, historical, political and social transformations are present in a selection of paintings, sculptures, documents, architectural models, postcards, plans, photographs, prints, drawings, publications and objects which aim to strengthen the emotional connection between Spaniards and their Museum and to set its history in context.

According to Miguel Falomir, Director of the Museo del Prado: “The Prado is the great gift that the Spanish nation has made to itself and we are delighted to think that for hundreds of thousands of Spaniards this installation is almost like a survey of the history of their own family.”

The display features 265 exhibits, among them works by Fernando Brambilla from Patrimonio Nacional; two architectural models and a drawing by Rafael Moneo; an architectural model by Normal Foster; a large amount of documentary material; seven sculptures; twelve coins and medals; and four new architectural models that have been specially made for this display and which show the different enlargements made to the Museum.

“The history of the Museo del Prado and its buildings” is complemented by a screen showing a 4K audiovisual production and an interactive app accessible from Samsung tablets with six terminals in the galleries offering different content.

The 5-minute audiovisual work combines historical images of the museum, graphic material, vfx illustrations, modelling techniques and 3D animation to recreate the Prado’s architectural evolution from the construction of Villanueva’s building to the present day.

The interactive app is available in English and Spanish but due to the Covid-19 pandemic visitors cannot currently use it interactively. Once the present situation is over, this app will allow visitors to visualise information on different phases of the building’s history.

“Samsung is extremely proud to be supporting this new permanent display at the Museo del Prado which includes digital work and experience. A commitment to culture is a key axis within our ‘Technology with a Purpose’ programme and for this reason we are working to devise interactive and multimedia projects that improve the experience of the millions of people who visit the Museum every year”, according to Alfonso Fernández, Director of Marketing, Communication and Institutional Relations at Samsung Spain.

Furthermore, this project will complement the various online initiatives launched during the celebration of the Bicentenary: “Voices of the Prado. An oral history”, and “Ephemeral Prado”, two documentary archives created to preserve the Museum’s oral and graphic history. “Voices of the Prado” does this through intra-historical, first-person accounts by staff members and other collaborators who have devoted their lives to the Museum, while “Ephemeral Prado” achieves the same end through posters, entry tickets and leaflets among other printed paper items, all of which trace the Museum’s graphic history.

Samsung. Supporting culture

Samsung has been a technological collaborator of the Museo del Prado since 2013. Its support for culture and its implementation falls within its “Technology with a Purpose” project for which the company works to improve people’s lives by breaking barriers through technology. This initiative can construct a better society. A permanent commitment in the form of three pillars of action: education and culture, accessibility and well-being, and employability and initiative.

Curator:
Víctor Cageao, Director of Buildings and the Natural Environment at Patrimonio Nacional

Access

Room 100, 101 and 102. Villanueva Building

In collaboration with:
Samsung

Multimedia

Exhibition

An Enlightenment building on the Paseo del Prado

An Enlightenment building on the Paseo del Prado

As part of his project to modernise Madrid, Charles III promoted the urban layout of the Salón del Prado. The King ordered the creation of a scientific campus adjoining the Paseo, consisting of the Astronomical Observatory, the Botanical Gardens and a building to house the Academy of Sciences and the Natural History Cabinet, the latter precariously occupying the Goyeneche Palace.

The government minister Floridablanca commissioned the design from Juan de Villanueva. In 1785 the architect presented two projects to the King, who chose the simpler one. A third was produced some time later, now known from its preliminary model, and finally a fourth, which became the definitive project.

Villanueva’s great building placed the main areas on two independent, superimposed floors with facing entrances on the two sides: on the south side at ground level for the Academy, and on the north side for the Cabinet, the latter raised and reached by a ramp. Work progressed satisfactorily until 1792, the year Floridablanca lost his position, after which it slowed down. The French troops who entered Madrid in 1808 occupied the still unfinished building.

The creation of the Museo Real de Pinturas

On his return to Spain, influenced by his second wife, Maria Isabel of Braganza, Ferdinand VII decided to create a museum of art in Madrid, bringing together works from the Royal Collection.

After an initial failed project centred on the Buenavista palace, the King decided to establish the museum in a building designed by Juan de Villanueva on the Prado de los Jerónimos.

Once this decision was published in the Gaceta de Madrid on 3 March 1818 the King entrusted his Court Painter, Vicente López, with the selection of paintings. The Museum was inaugurated without formal ceremony by the King and his third wife, Maria Josepha Amalia of Saxony, on 19 November 1819.

It remained open for eight days following its inauguration, and then once a week.

Initially, only 311 works from the Spanish School were displayed. The first director was José de Silva-Bazán, 10th Marquis of Santa Cruz and High Steward of the Royal Household.

As an institution, the Museo Real was dependent on the Royal Palace. Notable among the staff was the Keeper, the painter Luis Eusebi, who focused on compiling the early catalogues, of which the first was published in 1819.

The city regains a monument

The building chosen by Ferdinand VII to house the Real Museo was ideal due to its size, location and distinction. It was, however, in poor condition following the War of Independence. Restoration was essential and the King entrusted this to the architect Antonio López Aguado.

For the inauguration, only the three rooms flanking the rotunda on the main floor and reached from the north ramp were restored in November 1819. López Aguado subsequently embarked on a true restoration, focusing up to 1826 on the Central Gallery.

Work then moved to the lower floor, reached from the south entrance, which was remodelled to display sculpture. The result was a specialized museum on two floors. This initial work was completed in 1830 when the sculptor Ramón Barba created 16 medallions depicting artists for the façade facing the Paseo del Prado.

The Museum’s image as an urban monument was now fully established, encouraging its depiction in drawings by numerous artists that were disseminated as lithographs.

Achieving a space for art

Achieving a space for art

Following the death of Antonio López Aguado in 1831, the restoration of the Museum was taken over by his son Martín who unsuccessfully attempted to complete the apsidal gallery.Martín was followed by Custodio Teodoro Moreno who completed the restoration of the building’s interior. He maintained the distinction between the paintings collection, in the upper floor, and the sculpture collection, in the ground floor.

In 1844 Moreno was succeeded by Narciso Pascual y Colomer, who made changes to the pre-existing architecture, including the enlargement of the skylights in the Central Gallery. He subsequently designed the completion of the apsidal gallery.

This project was carried out between 1847 and 1852. In addition, an oval opening cut into the floor structure created a viewing area on the upper floor. Known as the Queen Isabella Gallery, it was used to display the most important paintings while the lower floor, illuminated from the skylight in the roof, housed the sculpture gallery.

This new architectural feature is known in detail from the earliest photographs taken of the Museum.

The Prado and the Trinidad: two coexisting museums

The death of Ferdinand VII in 1833 provoked speculation regarding the closure of the Real Museo. However, in 1844 it became a permanent part of the Crown, dependent on the Royal Household. It was decided to appoint leading artists as directors, such as José and Federico de Madrazo.

Simultaneously, the Disentailment of Spain’s religious houses under minister Mendizábal led to their closure, encouraging the creation in 1837 of provincial museums. In July 1838 a makeshift museum was opened in the monastery of the Trinidad in Madrid where works of art from religious houses in the capital and adjoining provinces were deposited.

For thirty years the two institutions – one royal, the other national – coexisted in Madrid, leading to arguments in favour of their fusion, as proposed by the Real Museo’s restorer, Vicente Poleró. Following the 1868 Revolution a new law nationalised Crown property, including the Real Museo.

In 1872 this led to the closure of the Museo de la Trinidad and the integration of its holdings into the new Museo Nacional de Pinturas y Esculturas. Most works were distributed among institutions around Spain, initiating the so-called “Prado disperso” [dispersed Prado].

New exhibitions for new types of visitors

By the end of the 19th century the institution was a fully public one, an internationally important museum. It now focused on professionalising its staff and updating its still crowded displays, evident in the photographs of the Central Gallery taken by Jean Laurent.

An indication of society’s acceptance of the Museum was the presence in its galleries of numerous copyists, recorded in the rigorously kept attendance books and depicted in photographs and paintings.

Another proof was the opening to groups of students and workers who visited to increase their cultural knowledge.

The evolution of display criteria is evident in the remodelling of the Queen Isabella Gallery, which was undertaken in 1899 to mark the third centenary of the birth of Velázquez, and in the creation of monographic galleries devoted to painters such as Murillo.

Another sign of modernisation was the launch of temporary exhibitions, notably the one devoted to El Greco in 1902.

The alterations to the Museum’s exterior

The alterations to the Museum’s exterior

Around 1877, the construction of the Jerónimos residential quarter led to the layout of new streets. This project resulted in demolition work in the area around the Museum, which thus became a free-standing building.

The elimination of the north ramp necessitated the construction of a staircase to avoid the Ionic portico being left suspended in the air. This six-flight staircase was finally designed by the architect Francisco Jareño and built in 1881. Four years later a sculptural group dedicated to the Fine Arts by Jerónimo Suñol was installed on top of the portico.

Jareño was also responsible for improvements to the Museum’s rear façade and the modification of the apse. He raised the latter’s roof and he removed Pascual y Colomer’s viewing platform on the inside.

From 1893 Fernando Arbós, who had succeeded Jareño, produced plans for renewing the roofs and for staff pavilions. He also modified the upper apsidal gallery, frosting its skylight and constructing a short-lived space leading off it for Las Meninas.

A State institution

By the early part of the 20th century the Prado was already a State institution and an obligatory destination for high-level visits to Madrid. The now professionalised Museum approached technical and academic issues rigorously.

These were discussed at the meetings of the Board of Trustees, founded in 1912.

While the tradition continued of appointing painters as directors, such as Álvarez de Sotomayor, for the first time an art historian – Aureliano de Beruete – assumed this role. In addition, key figures now joined, including Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón.

With regard to display, changes in taste, the integration of bequests and the construction of the first extension resulted in the installation of monographic galleries with less crowded presentations. One example is the El Greco gallery inaugurated in 1920. Commemorative exhibitions also started to be held, such as the one organised in 1928 to mark the centenary of Goya’s death.

The theft of the Dauphin’s Treasure, which took place during these years, caused a media sensation and led to a rethinking of the Museum’s facilities.

An extension and a staircase

An extension and a staircase

The need to increase display space led the government to commission the first extension to the Museum. The architect Fernando Arbós presented two preliminary projects, of which the simpler one was selected in 1913.

It involved the construction of two display galleries located between the apsidal gallery and the north and south wings of the Villanueva Building. Arbós also added two free-standing pavilions for the warder staff, located at the far ends of the rear façade. In 1916 Amós Salvador Carreras took over the project until its completion. The new galleries were inaugurated in 1923.

Salvador was succeeded as the Museum’s architect by Pedro Muguruza. From 1924 and under his supervision the inflammable vaults were replaced with reinforced concrete ones.

In addition, the design of the central part of the principal gallery was modified with the creation of two triumphal arches on Ionic columns in the style of the Louvre’s Grande Galerie. Muguruza also designed a staircase in one of the galleries in Arbos’s extension, rectifying the lack of central communication in a building that did not originally require it.

The Prado and the Civil War

The Prado and the Civil War

During the Civil War the Prado experienced one of the most crucial periods of its history. The outbreak of the war necessitated the removal of the collections from the galleries and their re-housing in safe areas of the Museum.

In addition, the windows and the most fragile parts of the building were protected with boards and sandbags, as were heavy sculptures that could not be removed from their location.

From October 1936 these protective tasks were directed by the architect José Lino Vaamonde. On the afternoon of 16 November 1936 various missiles fired by the Nationalist faction hit the building and the Paseo del Prado. The previously installed protection minimised the damage from the shelling.

As Madrid succumbed to the conflict, the collections were partly evacuated to Valencia. The Prado’s collections were installed in the Colegio del Patriarca and in the Torres de Serranos in Valencia, which were adapted to a design by Vaamonde.

The end of the war

As the war advanced towards Valencia it was decided to move the works from the Prado to Catalonia.

The advance of the Nationalist troops convinced the Republican government of the need to send the most important parts of the collection to Geneva to be cared for by the International Museums Office. The departure of the works took place in exceptionally difficult circumstances with roads and telephone lines down. The collections arrived in Geneva on 13 February 1939 and were taken to the headquarters of the League of Nations.

After the war ended Timoteo Pérez Rubio and José María Giner were entrusted with handing over the works to the new government, which agreed to present an exhibition of Spanish painting at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva. It occupied 15 galleries with 152 paintings from the Prado.

At the same time the Museum, which had survived the war with little damage, embarked on repairs and the removal of protective material in order to prepare for the return of the collections. With World War II about to break out, the works returned to Madrid on September 1939.

A post-war museum

A post-war museum

After the Civil War the Prado reopened to the public on 7 July 1939.

During the post-war years the Museum returned to normal life while consolidating its role as a State icon and receiving numerous visits from General Franco. Nonetheless, by a legal decree of 1968 the Prado joined the National Board of Museum, thus losing its administrative independence.

During the years of the dictatorship the Museum established internal management rules and strategies that affected almost all its areas of action, from visitors to security. Visitor numbers rose and a series of significant temporary exhibitions were organised, some to mark the addition of new collections, such as the Zayas donation, or the cultural items exchanged with France in 1941, like the Dama de Elche.

In 1969 the Museum celebrated its 150th anniversary. While the building had been extended on various occasions, it was still too small.

Enlarging the building:utopia and reality

After the Civil War Pedro Muguruza undertook significant architectural projects, including demolishing Jareño’s staircase and replacing it with one that gave entry to the ground floor. Nonetheless, during the Francoist years the Prado principally focused on securing a new extension to display more works. The extension plans proposed since the 1940s had all remained on paper.

Notable among these unrealised projects were Pedro Muguruza’s classicising extension of 1941, and the large building that José de Azpiroz proposed in 1952 for the area near the Botanical Gardens.

Finally, in 1953 Fernando Chueca and Manuel Lorente presented a project that proposed another wing attached to Arbós’s original extension, flanking the apse. These new galleries were inaugurated in 1956. A third extension was added between 1964 and 1968 under the direction of José María Muguruza, Pedro’s brother. This consisted of roofing over the courtyards located between the first and the second extension.

A museum awaiting change

A museum awaiting change

The early years of democracy were intensely active ones although from an architectural perspective only partial projects were undertaken despite various proposals for extensions, such as Francisco Rodríguez de Partearroyo’s.

Notable among the work carried out was the installation of a cafeteria in the basement of the south wing and, in particular, the construction between 1981 and 1984 of an auditorium on the ground floor of the apse, designed by José María García de Paredes. The most important project during this period was the complete updating of the roofing, designed in 1995 by Dionisio Hernández Gil and Rafael Olalquiaga.

Despite these improvements, since the Transition period the media had been calling for the modernisation of an institution considered to be disconnected from society.

Finally, the evident Museum’s lack of resources required a decision at government level, which led to the 1995 parliamentary pact for the remodelling and enlargement of the Prado.

Picasso and Velázquez

Despite the controversies, during the early decades of democracy, the Museum undertook actions of relevance, many the result of its technical and academic excellence. They included the restoration of Las Meninas in 1984 and the new types of dissemination and outreach introduced by the Education and Cultural Action Department.

This period also saw the effective incorporation of the Casón del Buen Retiro into the Prado. This addition was fully established in 1981 with the arrival and display of Picasso’s Guernica before it was sent to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

These were also the years of one of the Prado’s most important social achievements, namely the organisation of major exhibitions devoted to great artists such as Raphael, El Greco and Murillo. Standing out among all these highly successful events was the public reception of the exhibition Velázquez, which was organised just a few years before the celebration of the Museum’s 175th anniversary.

An interdisciplinary museum

An interdisciplinary museum

The parliamentary pact of 1995 launched an unstoppable process of museological modernisation. Essential to this process was the Regulatory Law on the Museo del Prado which increased the Museum’s administrative flexibility.

As an ongoing result, the Museum has embarked on initiatives aimed at achieving excellence, greater diversification of its academic and museological aims and the involvement of the general public through increasing sponsorship and through the role of the Friends of the Museo del Prado Foundation in the promotion of cultural and educational activities.

While maintaining the importance of temporary exhibitions, the Museum has encouraged a dialogue between its holdings and other art forms. It has also promoted scientific innovation in areas such as the restoration of collections; reflected on the history of the Museum; enhanced its website (which is an outstanding digital resource) and its use of social media; and more recently, given visibility to overlooked contributions such as women artists’ work.

In the context of its Bicentenary, all these initiatives have made the Prado an international and modern museum.

The Prado Campus

Following the parliamentary pact the Museum embarked on a process of architectural expansion while also updating the presentation of its collections. The results became evident in the late 1990s through the contribution of Gustavo Torner, who designed numerous galleries. In architectural terms, the first notable initiatve was the addition in 1998 of the office building on calle Ruiz de Alarcón.

The most remarkable event, however, was the launch of a competition for a new extension.

No winner of the first competition was declared and the Ministry of Culture launched a second one by inviting the ten finalists from the first one. The winner this time was Rafael Moneo who finally made the extension around the Jerónimos Cloister a reality. The work was inaugurated in 2007.

The project was completed with the incorporation of the two remaining parts of the Buen Retiro palace: the Casón, which became the Study Centre, and the Hall of Realms, which was added in 2015 and which will be remodelled by Norman Foster and Carlos Rubio. The result of these initiatives is the creation of the Prado Campus, a museum complex of outstanding excellence in the centre of Madrid.

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