A great article about visiting the Prado in Madrid in 45 minutes. Can it be done? If you want to try it for yourself, Central Holidays is a leader in Spain vacation packages.
Courtesy of the New York Times.
By ANDREW FERREN
HOW much time do you need for a museum visit? Some might say that they could spend an entire day at any of the world’s great museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Madrid, without even coming close to experiencing all their riches. Others, like those museumgoers with short attention spans, get itchy after a half-hour or so, and just make a mad dash to see a few favorites and maybe peek in at a new exhibition before heading back out into the sunlight and away from the crowds.
Well, how about 45 minutes? Can you really do a major museum justice in that amount of time? Surprisingly, one museum official seems to think so: Gabriele Finaldi, the Prado’s deputy director for conservation and research, and the one usually tapped to show visiting heads of state and other dignitaries the museum’s remarkable collection of paintings. “Forty-five minutes is the perfect amount of time to get to know the Prado,” said Mr. Finaldi.
So he wasn’t fazed when I asked him to plot an itinerary for the Prado that would have me in and out in less than an hour.
Mr. Finaldi said the key was to set priorities. “Obviously you’re not going to see the whole collection, so let some things — like English and Dutch painting, of which there are better collections elsewhere — drop by the wayside,” he explained. The Prado houses more works by Titian, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya than any other museum in the world, he said, so these pivotal artists ought not to be missed.
“The Prado is an especially sensuous collection,” Mr. Finaldi noted. “The kings of Spain who acquired it loved the lush, painterly qualities of Venetian painting, so it’s always worth just moving through the galleries for a few minutes, allowing yourself to be seduced by the sensual nature of the collection.”
Before any seduction can get under way, one has to get through the door, and the lines to do so could easily use up your 45 minutes. Fortunately, the Prado’s Web site offers timed-entry tickets, though these must be bought in advance. Print out the tickets, which contain a bar code, and go to the museum’s Velázquez entrance (the central entrance in the middle of the museum’s grand facade) and you’re in. A bonus: the online tickets, which sell for 7 euros, about $9.50, at $1.36 to the euro, are 1 euro cheaper than those bought in person.
To avoid bottlenecks and crowds, Mr. Finaldi suggests going when the museum opens at 9 a.m. There is also usually a lull in visitors between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., when many Spaniards eat lunch. Admission is free after 6 p.m., and the museum is open until 8 most days. It is closed on Mondays.
Since opening a vast new wing in 2007, the nearly 200-year-old Prado has been stretching into its new space by reorganizing and expanding its permanent displays. Last spring, the prized collection of Venetian paintings, including many of the museum’s 35 canvases by Titian, were reinstalled in new galleries. In the fall, the museum’s collection of 19th-century paintings and sculptures — which had been shown only offsite (if at all) over the last 30 years — was unveiled in a suite of 12 galleries in the main building.
These 19th-century galleries now constitute the finish line of the Prado’s nearly 1,000-year run through the history of art. To compress all of that into my recent 45-minute tour, Mr. Finaldi focused on a few key works that highlight the strengths and unique character of Spain’s premier picture gallery.
Skipping right to the Renaissance, he singled out “Death of the Virgin” by Andrea Mantegna, circa 1462. Hanging in Gallery 56B on the ground floor, just to the left of the museum entrance, the small, luminous painting on panel — surrounded by works by Raphael, Fra Angelico and Botticelli — provides a good point for taking in the Prado’s collection of Italian Renaissance painting.
Flemish paintings were also highly prized by the Spanish kings, who ruled over much of the Low Countries. Through the doorway opposite the Mantegna, the galleries of Flemish painting include iconic works like Rogier van der Weyden’s achingly beautiful “Descent From the Cross” from about 1435 (in Gallery 58). The delicately painted details, like the translucent tears streaming down several faces and the potent gestures of grief, convey a most poignant depiction of sorrow.
Three galleries away in room 56A is Hieronymous Bosch’s famous triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (circa 1500), with its detailed and highly imaginative rendering of the passage from the Garden of Eden to Hell.
Turn right out of this gallery to take the elevators just outside of Gallery 55 up to the first floor. Make another right out of the elevator and into the spectacular long gallery that forms the spine of the building. Lined with paintings by masters of the Spanish golden age like José de Ribera and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, this is definitely a spot where Mr. Finaldi’s just-take-it-all-in approach is greatly rewarded.
At the gallery’s north end, the new Venetian display (Galleries 40 to 44) offers a sumptuous selection of works by Bellini, Titian and Tintoretto and provides a crash course in the dramatic action, jewel-like colors and lushly painted surfaces that captivated the first Hapsburg rulers of Spain, Charles V and his son Philip II.
The Spanish master Velázquez (1599-1660) is the undisputed headliner of the Prado’s collection. As court painter to King Philip IV, Velázquez painted portraits of the royal family as well as scenes of important military victories and classical allegories that boldly proclaimed the majesty and refinement of the Spanish court. However, the subject of his best-loved painting, “Las Meninas,” remains an open question.
Ostensibly a scene of everyday life inside the palace, the painting has layers of meaning that scholars still debate. Usually it hangs in the basilica-like Gallery 12, but until June it is on view in the center of the long gallery. “Las Meninas” is to the Prado what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre. It’s unlikely ever to travel to see you, so do not miss it here.
The other great pillar of Spanish art is Goya (1746-1828). Make your way to the south end of the Central Gallery where Goya’s portraits of King Carlos IV dominate the small octagonal pavilion (Gallery 32). Much of the museum’s southern flank is dedicated to Goya, with 125 works currently on view, but Mr. Finaldi typically selects two large canvases portraying an uprising in Madrid against Napoleon’s forces to show visitors.
Called simply the “Second of May, 1808” and “Third of May, 1808,” the works depict a brutal street fight one day and the even more brutal repercussions, with a firing squad, the next. Emblems of both Spanish history and Western art, the paintings amply reveal Goya’s unrivaled skills as a master of dramatic action, textures and atmospheric effects, the painterly attributes that unite much of the Prado’s collection.
Walk past Goya’s portrait of King Ferdinand VII, the man who opened the Prado as a public museum in 1819, and into the museum’s 19th-century galleries where works by Federico de Madrazo, Joaquín Sorolla and Mariano Fortuny fill in the blanks on what happened in Spanish painting between Goya and Picasso.
These galleries leave you at the doorway through which you entered the museum — turn right and you’ll find the new shop and cafe or turn left and retake the street, having seen much of the Prado and with a whole day still ahead of you.
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