Being the capital of one of the most important empires of the human history has its pros. Its millenary culture gave humanity some of the best piece of arts in the world. In particular, this city hosts three impressive painting galleries.
Delicious tip: All these three museums support an online booking system with a timed access. We loved it, as we have been able to book entrances to all of them and skip every queue. That’s something every museum in the world should have!
Best museums in Madrid
Museo Nacional del Prado
Museo Nacional del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum and is definitely one of the goto destinations here. The art collection is enormous, and it’s easy to get lost. But even with a small amount of time available, it’s worth to see at least three artworks.
First of all, the 17th-century collection hosts one of the most beautiful paintings in Spanish history: Las Meninas from Diego Velázquez. The portrait of Infanta Margarita is the best-known work from the Spanish painter, and it’s just magnificent. The environment the artist sets the episode is accurately depicted, with several details showing the incredible precision of Velázquez style. The figures on the painting are caught in a natural, plastic way. Velázquez, who is among them, speaks with the viewer by looking directly at us. It’s a complicated, enigmatic composition, made even more cryptic by the presence of a mysterious man on the stairs in the background and a couple in the mirror (probably the King and Queen of Spain, parents of Margarita).
From the same time period, one artwork from Rubens is our second highlight of the museum. Peter Paul Rubens is considered the most influential Flemish Baroque artist. At a time when Spanish Empire was at its height, Rubens was appointed knight by Philip IV of Spain and performed several diplomatic missions for him. The Three Graces is a masterpiece of his artistic style, with his vaporous and voluptuous figures, the warm colors and the classical-themed subject.
The third artwork is our personal favorite: the Goya hall. Francisco Goya is one of the leading Romanticism artists and the most important Spanish painter of its time. Prado is the best place where to admire its artworks. The two Majas (La Maja Vestida and La Maja Desnuda) are exposed one next to each other, creating an impressive effect of comparison. The Giant (El Colosso), is a masterpiece for every Romanticism aficionado.
But we want to concentrate on a single room: the Black Paintings room. We think this is the something anybody can’t miss to visit in Madrid (apart from Guernica of course!). A group of 14 paintings painted between 1819 and 1823. Goya created them near the end of his life, directly on the walls of his house.
In these figures, the artist put all his sufferings and all his delusion toward humanity. The most famous of these is “Saturn Devouring His Son”, the painting of the godfather of the Olympus in the act of tearing the head of one of his children off. The reason for his behavior is a prophecy saying that one of his children would kill him and take his place, and Zeus will do precisely that after escaping from his father.
The black background is the scenario where the atrocious act is performed: the titan, with dehumanized traits, is eating one of his child’s left arm, in a scene of absolute cruelty and suffering. Blood is running on the young corpse, while Saturn is looking at the viewer with spirited eyes.
This is not a happy place: it’s a trip into humanity madness, a glance into the mind of a man lost in panic and terror. The whole experience is cathartic. The sun outside is a very welcome relief from the Black Paintings, and we definitely suggest taking a walk before entering in one of the other two museums. La Casa del Abuelo (more about it in our food post) is only 10 minutes away!
Museo Nacional Reina Sofia
Allocate at least a couple of hours as the place is relatively big, and it’s easy just to get lost among the halls (also, its peculiar structure “by theme” rather than “by author” makes orientation a little bit difficult).
Spain is the home of one of the most popular geniuses of the last century: Pablo Picasso. And Museo Nacional Reina Sofia is Spain leading modern art museum, meaning anyone vaguely interested in 20th-century art can’t really miss this place. However, Reina Sofia is not only Picasso but also Miró, Dalí, Gris.
Our suggestion is not to head straight to the Guernica, but to wander around a bit. The collection of Dalí is impressive, and it’s indispensable to allocate some time to admire Miró. In particular, we suggest Peinture (Hirondelle). It’s a relatively unknown work by the Catalan artist that perfectly represent his studies over the structure of painting and the distance between the drawing of a swallow and the characters of the word “swallow”.
But in the hearth of the museum, at the very core of modern Spanish art, the most representative painting of Spanish history (and probably of the 20th century in the world) occupies a full room by itself. Guernica, from the name of the city depicted, is MASSIVE. We are not speaking (only) about its actual size, but the impact the painting it has on the viewer.
Pablo Picasso put his own soul in the painting and the result is absolutely incredible. It’s easy to spend one hour looking at this composition, analyzing the single parts, from the torn bull to the crying mother to the statue to the building on fire. It’s a mesmerizing artwork, and it will leave a trace on everybody who looks at it. Guernica gives a meaning to the word “human”, it’s pure emotion in black and white.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is the third art museum in the Spanish capital city. Personally, we suggest to visit this museum after Prado and put Reina Sofia on another day. The atmosphere here is much brighter and lighter, and it makes a beautiful contrast with the darker areas of the black paintings room.
Art lovers will absolutely love this place: unique paintings, from middle ages to nowadays, are displayed one after the other in chronological order. The effect it creates is astonishing, as art history develops under our eyes, going from Gothic icons, covered in gold, to Italian Renaissance, 16th-century Flemish masters, impressionism, expressionism and terminating with pop-art. It’s a small museum, but it’s definitely worth at least two hours of your time.
The more we explore this city, the more we love it. From the large fancy roads of Salamanca to the labyrinthic alleys of Lavapies, there is always a new place to discover and a new side to explore. And of course, a new tapas bar to try!