Who dares to tell the king that he is naked? In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes is an innocent boy who shouts it at the end of the story. Upon entering the Goya door of the Prado Museum, Carlos V and el Furor welcome the visitor. This Leoni sculpture is shown without armor. The king is naked.
At the other end of the Villanueva building, the first built to house the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture, the germ of the Prado, the art gallery is also naked. It shows how it came into the world: from its origin –the space it occupies today was literally a meadow outside the city– to what it will be in the future with the expansion proposed by Foster + Partners and Rubio Arquitectura. In the rooms formerly occupied by the Dolphin Treasure, now the Prado explains itself: the metamuseum converts the temporary exhibition organized to celebrate its bicentennial, Prado Museum 1819 – 2019. A place of memory , in one more part of its permanent collection to show its evolution as a living being: photographs, documents, clothing, models, furniture … History of the Prado Museum and its buildings brings together 265 pieces to humanize, from nudity, the emperor of the painting museums in Europe.
COME IN AND SEE ! THE SHOW STARTS
Couldn’t it be the Prado the greatest show in the world? At least one of the biggest. The museum exhibits a lathe from the early twentieth century that gave access to that universe where kings and beggars, philosophers and saints, God and demons, bearded women and heroes who love gods, corpses and suckling babies coexist … By accessing the space that Today it tells the history of the museum and its buildings, this piece is the first that the visitor finds. It is contextualized by a photograph in which the janitor José is shown Manso Azpiazu, towards 1960, next to one of these turnstiles. The art gallery commissioned the company L. Miltgen four, which also functioned as people counters. They were installed in 1913 and were in use until 1960. Who could imagine at that time that to access today there would be scanners with which to see what is not observed with the naked eye and thermometers to measure the temperature of visitors.
Before there was a building where to locate a lathe to control access to the museum, there was another way to keep an eye on the staff: the known as Salón del Prado in the time of Carlos III (1716 – 1788) –now Paseo del Prado– was a place to see and be seen. A space for a walk in the plots attached to the monastery of San Jerónimo, where the Madrilenians wore the latest French fashions, richly dressed with brightly colored fabrics, and the Madrilenians followed the tradition of capes and tricorns. It can be seen in the Madrid map of 1762, prior to the construction of the Villanueva building, by Tomás López de Vargas and Ventura Rodríguez (upper image), that what today is the central axis of the capital (Prado, Recoletos and Castellana, number 18) , at that time it was the eastern end of the city. The Buen Retiro palace already existed (number 04 on the 18th century map), of which today the Casón and the Salón de Reinos are preserved, which are also part of the museum. The urban planning of streets like Atocha (number 25) or the Plaza de Antón Martín (3) have barely changed in two and a half centuries as can be seen in the current plan (lower image).
CONCIERGE , COPIST AND CATALOG: EUSEBI, BOY FOR EVERYTHING
The tour also shows the evolution of the professionalization of museum workers. Luis Eusebi (1773 – 1829) was a painter, but also a janitor and the editor of the first Prado catalogs. The one with the image dates from 1828 -more complete than those of 1824 and 1824 -. Fate has wanted this worker, unknown but fundamental in the institution, to star at the same time in part of the exhibition that is being carried out in the rooms 60 and 60 A of the Villanueva Building of the museum, composed of the works purchased in the last years thanks to the legacy of Carmen Sánchez. One of them, Sagrada Familia del Roble, of 1821, is one of the first copies made in the museum after its inauguration in 1800, and is the work of Eusebi, who was based on the original sketched by Rafael but finalized by Giulio Romano between 1518 and 1520, also owned by the gallery.
A century has passed since this panel was in force (between 1913 and 1928). It shows that the museum was open every day except Monday and that the entrance, except Thursday and Sunday, which was free, was worth one peseta. A great Advance if you think that two centuries ago, when it was inaugurated, it was only open on Wednesdays and a recommendation or authorization from Court personnel was necessary to access. Now the museum is open 24 hours on your website; even one of his exhibitions, Mythological Passions , can be visited virtually for 2.5 euros for a week, the first exhibition to offer this possibility. Tickets to the museum can be purchased from any device and for any day of the week and, if it weren’t for the restrictions due to the pandemic, perhaps the number of visitors could have exceeded 3. 203. 417 which reached in 2019, the highest figure in its history. These data were already recorded in 1843 in the guest books, where the numbers of visitors and copyists. It will not be until 1913 when they are counted separately from each other.
The Prado is also a sign of changes in social and hygiene habits . An object as inconceivable today in a museum as a spittoon was part of its rooms at the beginning of the 20th century; thus appears documented in some images, and not precisely in remote places. A few meters from Las Meninas, in a snapshot that immortalized the visit of the then Prince of Wales with Queen Victoria Eugenia in 1920, one appears of these ceramic containers made in Seville. Times have changed and not only because of the pandemic: long before, you couldn’t even get a bottle of water in favor of the conservation of works of art.
Some things don’t change so much . The expansion designed by Fernando Arbós allowed the opening of new rooms in September 1920, among which the one dedicated to El Greco stands out, which brought together 22 plays from Cretan. The project of distribution of the canvases with watercolors cut and pasted on cardboard that is seen in the image below is not far from the way in which temporary exhibitions are planned today, with scale works on the plans.
It is also remarkable that in the papers on the table the posthumous portrait of Isabel de Braganza (below), Fernando’s wife VII and who is considered the true promoter of the museum for its defense of the fine arts, the queen is holding some room diagrams in which it is also represented in the same way the ordering of the works. On the canvas of Bernardo López Piquer de 1828, the queen also points out the window at the building of the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture, which at that time had been open for nine years , germ of the Prado.