The full nude of the Prado

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.



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).



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.



In the Restoration area of ​​the museum a piece of furniture has been kept for decades that preserves elements that are becoming obsolete. It is a sample of something that this department shows: they are, among other things, the accumulated knowledge of its predecessors. This section of the Prado is a reference in its field around the world and collaborates with leading institutions using and researching new techniques while working hand in hand with the great masters of art history. The closet has left the private space it occupied to display historical objects of the department: tongs, weights, iron plates, cans with pigments, nails of more than 15 centimeters, rusty iron picture hangers –an outrage for current preventive conservation–… Even a real kickstand that was used to remove nails.


The salvation of the Prado works during the Civil War has gone down in history, but what if the projectiles that the 16 November 1936 fell on the museum? Luckily, there was only one small fire on the roof that was quickly put out. That day the heritage was the objective, since the National Library was also bombed. The museum, among other iconic images of wars, such as The executions of May 3, of Goya, or the years that the Guernica hung on the walls of the Casón del Buen Retiro (between 1981 and 1992), it also preserves some of the projectiles that tried to destroy it in the middle of the war, such as the one in the image.



The museum is made by people and not all will go down in history: the workers in the store, the ticket offices or the rooms are the ones who have the most direct contact with the p public, the true faces of the museum and under the cap of the image that is exhibited today Luis Lapausa Arango worked, who began as an elevator operator in the sixties, then he was room watchman and later he was able to dedicate himself to his profession as a carpenter in the museum’s carpentry workshop. Almost 50 years working in this institution until he retired 12 years. Half a century in which the art gallery has taken a spectacular turn. They lived the tips that the guides gave them, “some durillos”, so that they could advance their access to the Las Meninas room where they entered in groups of 15 persons. He has seen the personalities who have led the 20th century, such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or US President Jimmy Carter, pass by. Even James Bond himself. It was such a stir that was mounted with the visit of Roger Moore that they had to ask him to return to the closed museum. Talking with Lapausa is almost like being able to talk with The gentleman with his hand on his chest: someone who has been there observing everything. For proof, your worker’s card number 312 (in the image), one of the few that will be kept from the Franco era.


Antonio Muñoz Molina has been collaborating with EL PAÍS for more time than as a member of the Royal Spanish Academy – whose headquarters is next to the museum – and, probably, even longer visiting the Prado. He continues to combine these three activities and it is frequent that in his weekly text in Babelia, the cultural supplement of the newspaper, from time to time he makes a review of what happens in the art gallery: the last , in March, after his visit to Mythological Passions . Now one of his texts, accompanied by photos of Francisco de Ontañón, is part of the contextualization that the Prado makes of itself. November 6, 1994, when Muñoz Molina was not yet an academic, El País Semanal celebrated the 175 th anniversary of the museum with the words of the writer in which, in addition to reflecting the atmosphere of the rooms, in which the presence of foreigners already stands out, he says: “You go to the Prado Museum to enjoy painting, to learn from it, to be comforted by it, to always discover something that you did not know precisely in the paintings that you stop to look more times, but you also go, at the same time, to walking around, enjoying the gardens and the architecture of Juan de Villanueva… ”

Entrega del Premio Princesa de Asturias de Comunicación y Humanidades al Museo del Prado en 2019.
Presentation of the Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities to the Prado Museum in 2019. JOSÉ LUIS CEREIJIDO (EFE)

Year 2019 will mark another milestone in the history of the Prado: the museum fulfilled 200 years, received more than three million visits ( his record) and won the Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities at a time when communication is precisely a challenge for museums. A year and a half ago from that moment in which Laura Fernández, head of the Prado Museum; Javier Solana, president of the art gallery board of trustees, and the director, Miguel Falomir (from left to right in the image of José Luis Cereijido, from the Efe agency), collected the award from the princess of Asturias. It was October 2019 and the pandemic future could not even be imagined. The Prado was only closed for three months and since last June 6 it remains open, proving that it is a safe place if the anticovid security measures are maintained, something which does not happen in other countries (for example, the Parisian Louvre or the London British are still closed). The perspective of museums has changed, they rethink the organization of large exhibitions and, above all, communication, since they have to deal with two very different types of public: on the one hand, the local, made up of the residents of their city or neighborhood who can enjoy the museum in person; and, at the same time, the general public that accesses the museum through screens, social networks, and talks in streaming. A new world for the third century of the Prado.



Like there are cities that are recognized by certain elements, museums also have characteristic elements and the Prado chairs are. At least those of the guards, because it is an institution in which there are not many seats for the rest of the visitors. The chair on the left is a design from the 1940s, also used by copyists, inspired by the traditional jamuga or scissors chair. The one on the right, which can be seen in the rooms today, is the so-called Prado chair, created exclusively for the museum and based on the sedan chair. of Felipe II. It is kept aligned and at the same time separated from the wall thanks to the skate on the back.

History of the Prado Museum and its buildings

Exhibition organized by


Drafting: Ruth de las Heras Bretin
Editorial coordination: Francis Pachá

Design Coordination: Adolfo Domenech
Development and Design: Rodolfo Mata and Juan Sánchez

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