The Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the world’s most important art galleries. The collection has accumulated over the years from the possessions of Spanish Kings. The museum now houses well over 4,000 pieces of art.
In the 18th century, King Carlos III commissioned the architect Juan de Villanueva to build a Neo-Classical style building and a botanical garden. Carlos III was responsible for much of the city’s urban renewal and he was nicknamed “King Mayor – the King of Enlightenment”. The building was originally the Natural Science Museum. King Fernando VII converted it into a museum to house the royal art collection and it became the Prado.
In addition to the main building, there are two annexes: The Palacio de Villahermosa annex was recently remodeled by Rafael Moneo. He redesigned the interior space that now houses the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. This private collection is the second only to that of Queen Elizabeth II of England. The other Annex is called the Casón del Buen Retiro, and resembles a Greek temple. This building was once the great ballroom of the Royal Retiro Palace that was destroyed during the French occupation. It now houses the Museum of 19th century Spanish Paintings.
Important works of art here are by the Spanish artists El Greco, Zurbarán, Velásquez, Murillo, Ribera and Goya. Some of the more famous paintings are El Greco’s Adoration of the Shepherds, and Ribera’s Martydom of St. Bartholomew. The ground level of the museum houses a special section dedicated to Goya. Included among them are the Naked Maja, the Clothed Maja, his not very flattering but “truthful” royal portrait of theMarquesa de Santa Cruz, his most famous Second of May and the Fusillade of Moncloa also called the Third of May, all paintings depicting the suffering of the patriotic people of Madrid during Napoleon’s attack in 1808. Other museum show pieces are Velásquez’s Surrender of Breda and his most famous work, Las Menias which is in a room of its own. The museum also houses many great works of art by several great European masters.