Madrid is a paradise for all art lovers, with an array of theaters, libraries, music venues and museums. The most famous of these attractions – the world-renowned Prado Museum, Reina Sofia Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – form what’s known as “The Golden Triangle of Art”. Each of these three museums is worth spending a whole day in, but if you’re short of time or just not that interested in museums, we’ve put together some highlights to help you on your whirlwind tour.
The Prado Museum
The Prado Museum houses one of the finest collections of European art in the world, and undoubtedly the best collection of Spanish art. Some of its most iconic paintings include:
- Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Velázquez was one of the most important artists of the Spanish Golden Age. His paintings were rich in cultural and historical significance, but he also dabbled in simpler works, such as portraits of the royal family. His single most famous work is Las Meninas. It measures about 10.5 by 9 feet (3.2 by 2.75 m) and is a constant source of fascination and debate among art scholars, since it’s kind of a mash-up between subjects and genres. The central figure is Margaret Theresa of Spain, the daughter of King Philip IV, surrounded by her maids of honor (hence the name Las Meninas). On the left side you can see Diego Velázquez himself, and in the frame in the background you’ll notice a portrait of the king and queen. One of the painting’s great mysteries is the question of what Velazquez is painting on the canvas in front of him. What do you think he’s up to?
- The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch introduces Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden, surrounded by interesting hybrid animals and plants. In the central frame, nude men and women enjoy various ‘activities’ surrounded by other recognizable and unrecognizable creatures in a surrealistic paradise garden. The right frame is markedly different; this is where all hell breaks loose, literally. In contrast to the first two frames, the right is painted in dark colors, depicting wars and torture caused by the carnal temptations of the previous panel. When the wings are closed, they form a perfect sphere, with God in the upper left corner – a depiction of the creation of the world.
- The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya – the painting Kenneth Clark described as “the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention”. This masterpiece is the artist’s tribute to the rebels of the uprising against the French invasion. As its title suggests, it depicts the events of the third of May, when rebels were rounded up and shot by the French.
- The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden. The Flemish artist created his masterpiece in 1435 with the idea that it would bring him international recognition. He succeeded, and his most famous painting has influenced a huge number of artists generations into the future. Its ambiance of sorrow is powerful and inevitable, and even not-so-religious people are sure to be moved by its grim beauty. One of the most interesting details is the body of the Virgin Mary, whose pose mimics that of Jesus.
Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll point out the masterpieces you shouldn’t miss in Reina Sofia Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. And, of course, pin this post for reference whenever you want to feel like a fine art connoisseur: