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The Prado has completed its presentation of the fascinating dialogue between Velázquez and the great Old Masters that articulates its new hanging Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A year and a half prior to the scheduled date for the completion of its new display project, the remodeled presentation of the works in the Museum’s Central Gallery, initiated at the end of last year, constitutes one of the most important and complex elements within this plan. The opening sections of this broad, luminous gallery that forms the principal axis within the Villanueva Building now display large-format works that fall within the majestic pictorial tradition which originated with the great Venetian masters (Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese) and which would have such a profound influence on the development of European painting, in particular on the work of Annibale Carracci, Diego Velázquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, with whose works these canvases now engage in close dialogue. This story of connections, influences, admiration and rivalry between artists over the course of more than a century is now recounted in the elegant, light-filled spaces of Juan de Villanueva’s stately gallery.

The Prado has completed its presentation of the fascinating dialogue between Velázquez and the great Old Masters that articulates its new hanging

View of the Central Gallery from the anteroom after remodelling

The completion of this key phase marks the end of a lengthy process that has encompassed almost the entire main floor of the Museum. The chronological route now starts with a presentation of the sixteenth-century collections, with Titian as the principal focus, and culminates with Goya in the late eighteenth century. The new arrangement of the works allows for a connection to be established between the two great European traditions represented in the Prado – the Italian and Flemish schools – and Spanish painting, led by Velázquez. For the first time and through a dual, longitudinal and transversal arrangement of the works, visitors will be able to appreciate the influence of the great masters such as Titian and Rubens (now on display in the Central Gallery) on Spanish painters from El Greco to Goya.

In the north wing of the galleries that flank this space, Ribera and the distinctively Spanish interpretation of naturalism (Maíno, Zurbarán and early Velázquez) now connect with the Museum’s Italian Baroque paintings. To the south, following the Velázquez rooms and parallel to the display of great works by Rubens and the later Flemish school, the new display presents major works by Spanish painters of the second half of the century, with Murillo, Cano and Carreño de Miranda as the leading figures.

Finally, and in relation to this Spanish-European context, Goya is shown alongside paintings by the artists who worked for the new Spanish Bourbon dynasty in the eighteenth century, such as Mengs and the Tiepolos.

In addition, the large galleries devoted to court portraiture function as the connecting element of this new display of the collections on the main floor of the Villanueva Building. Opposite the 'Meninas' gallery, which displays Velázquez's most important portraits, visitors can now see Titian's three great portraits of the first Habsburg monarchs, Charles V and Philip II, in a space presided over by one of the Prado's most celebrated paintings, Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg. In the south wing, the gallery devoted to portraits of the early Bourbons, in which the principal work is the monumental Family of Philip V by Van Loo, finds its counterpart in the Rotunda, where Goya's royal portraits are displayed, led by The Family of Charles IV.

The Central Gallery

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.

After the Venetian painting to be seen in the first sections of the Gallery (rooms 25 and 26), an area that particularly benefits from the entry of natural light, and the three magnificent portraits by Titian mentioned above (room 27), 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. The only other artist represented here is Van Dyck, with The Crowning with Thorns.

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.

Architectural improvements

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.