Artful Expansion

Madrid’s Prado Museum opens an annex in a 17th-century cloister

By: Patricia Alisau

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Cloister interior
Travelers visiting Spain for the World’s Fair in Zaragoza next summer might consider stopping off in Madrid either before or afterward to stroll through the newly remodeled Prado, the crown jewel of Spain’s museums.

A project which took a decade and millions of dollars to complete, it led to the restoration of a historic building of the 17th-century Cloister of the Jeronimos located behind the Prado that was practically falling down in ruins. Nearly 3,000 of its stones were dismantled, cleaned and reinstalled to make ready for the debut in October of new galleries and an underground level linking it with the original museum.

The cloister was visited by the rich and famous of its time, and was meant as a spiritual retreat for kings and royalty. It’s said Charles V spent the last four years of his life here. The adjacent Gothic church, the oldest such monument in the city, went up several centuries earlier and is where royal weddings took place.

The recent inaugural exhibit of 19th-century Spanish artists looked regal in these new surroundings, lit by artfully placed skylights. The exhibition was a coming-out party for the little-known sketches by Francisco de Goya, for example, and other painters, which were brought out of storage for the first time. In fact, having enough room to bring more warehoused works to the public view is what prompted the expansion.

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Sculpture in the Cloister of the
Jeronimos at the Prado
Sketches aside, de Goya is most famous for his paintings “The Majas” and I decided to grab the chance to see them. Standing in his permanent collection in the old part of the museum, I could see why Goya was called before the dreaded Inquisition. Naughty and nice and much smaller in size than I expected, the figure in one painting is nude and the other is clothed, and they were painted for a prime minister who rotated them depending on who was visiting his home. “It was the Playboy of its time,” my guide, Susana Jaraibo, said.

Goya was exonerated by the council but the identity of the model remains a mystery, she said, although some claim it was the Duchess of Alba.

A concurrent exhibit in the cloister shows earlier 16th-century narrative religious paintings by native son Diego Velasquez along with the works of fellow artists like Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, who influenced his art. Velasquez and de Goya make up the major holdings of the Prado along with the Old Masters of European art.

According to Estefania Gomez, promotion executive with the Madrid Touristic Consortium, the new Prado annex is expected to raise the number of visiting U.S. travelers, adding that it’s being helped along with a bigger promotion budget for the museum in the U.S.

“Three out of four who come to Madrid go there already and we expect more in the future,” she said.

The Prado expansion also comes at a time when the city is launching a greater plan to unify the museum district with renovations to steer more tourists to this cultural hive of the Spanish capital. A Paseo de Arte (or Art Walk) is being created with a wide tree-lined path connecting the biggest the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia. The Thyssen, which has a permanent collection of 17th-century Flemish and 19th-century North American art, and the Reina Sofia, home to Pablo Picasso’s acclaimed “Guernica,” and other 20th-century pieces, have recently completed sizeable enlargements to their gallery spaces.

The Art Walk is expected to be completed in 2008, in time for May 2 celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the country’s War of Independence. A roster of cultural events is being created for visitors, Gomez added.

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By Patricia Alisau

Your clients may recall the works of Andy Warhol, the small-town artist who forever changed the art world by launching the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. They may not see his famous portraits of soup cans or Brillo pads at the latest exhibit at the Thyssen-Bornemisza but, not to worry, there’s an equally admirable drawing of fellow artist/poet Jean Cocteau. The portrait of the Frenchman comes from a private collector in Spain, part of an exhibit titled, “Modern Masters of Drawing.” A selection of 71 works by some of the leading avant-garde proponents of the 19th and 20th centuries, the show includes Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Henry Moore and Spain’s own Miro, Picasso, Goya and Dali.

After strolling the museum, head to the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) to watch the impressive Changing of the Guard. The royal residence of reigning King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, the palace has just upped the frequency to once a week on Wednesdays instead of once a month. Garbed in the dress uniforms of the 1900’s under Kind Alfonso XII, the military guards are either on foot or horseback. A much larger contingent of over 400 guards and 100 horses appear in a longer ceremony the first Wednesday of the month.

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