Prado Museum

Prado Museum
   The Prado Museum, Madrid, houses a worldfamous art collection, which includes masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, El Greco, Bosch and Murillo, to name but a few.
   Founded by Ferdinand VII to make public a large part of the royal collection formed by the Hapsburg and Bourbon kings, the Prado opened as the Royal Museum of Paintings in 1819, in a building designed originally for an Academy and Museum of Natural Sciences by Juan de Villanueva. Its original holding of 311 paintings was later augmented by the incorporation of the Museo de la Trinidad, a collection of works of art that had passed into state control from religious establishments in Madrid, Avila, Segovia and Toledo. Further purchases, the New Acquisitions, form the third section of the total collection of some 7,500 paintings, a photographic record of which was completed in 1990, and forms the basis of the three-volume catalogue. A new catalogue of the 900 or so pieces of sculpture which it also houses was published in 1994.
   By 1994 pressure on space was such that only about 1,000 of the paintings could be exhibited in the original Villanueva building and in the Casón del Buen Retiro. Some 4,000 were in store, the so-called "Hidden Prado", and the rest, the "Dispersed Prado", was on loan to embassies, museums and churches. That year the head of the trustees was driven to speak openly of leaks in the roof, rats in the cellars, shortages in exhibition space, and totally inadequate security arrangements (not to mention space for only twenty umbrellas), a situation which had not been helped by inadequate funding and rather frequent changes in the directorship of the Museum. In the same year submissions of projects for the expansion of the Museum were invited to an open international contest to be held in 1996, though it was the considered view of a previous director that a more rigorous selection for the permanent collection would make more effective use of the existing space. The expansion was to incorporate the Army Museum building and the ruined Hieronymite Cloisters, since the nearby Villahermosa palace had been dedicated to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. In the meantime it was decided in 1995 to rationalize the Museum's holdings by transferring some 500 post-1881 works to the Queen Sofía Museum, to which Picas-so's Guernica had already been moved amid great controversy in 1992.
   In 1996, following a change of government, a new director was appointed who promised to strengthen the scientific and research aspects of the Museum, creating five new curatorships, and giving the trustees new managerial powers. After a surprise failure of the judges to award a first prize in the international contest, it was decided to proceed with the plans for expansion, which had been set in train by the decision to transfer the Army Museum exhibits to Toledo. The use of the Hieronymite Cloisters site was sanctioned in November 1977, following protracted negotiations with the Archbishop of Madrid.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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