Thursday, January 15, 2015

Madrid: The Museums

If you are traveling to Spain and thinking about skipping Madrid, I have two reasons that you need to reconsider: the Museo del Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.  Literally you can spend the majority of a day in each (and we did in the Museo del Prado!), but I wanted to hit some of the main highlights to both sway you to make these stops and help you prioritize if you are shorter on time.

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
Admission: 8 Euro
Free Tuesdays through Friday from 7pm to 9 pm

This is the modern art museum for Madrid, and the major highlight is Picasso's "Guernica".  Absolutely not to be missed.  Head to room 206 and this massive painting takes up the entire room.  Surrounding rooms show initial drafts and versions which are completely fascinating in themselves.  You can literally see Picasso's thought process as he changes the mouth of the horse or the position of an arm.

Also on display are multiple works by Spanish modernist masters Dali and Miro, and a great selection of modern female artists.

You may have seen "Guernica" in a textbook, but you cannot appreciate the scale of it until you see it in person like this.  It is completely overwhelming and desperate and breathtaking.  via

Museo Del Prado
Admission: 14 Euro
Free Admission Monday through Saturday from 6pm to 8pm

Ok I have to admit that I am not the biggest modern art enthusiast so I went to the free after hours museum open house at the Reina Sofia.  It was the perfect amount of time to see "Guernica" and a good assortment of Dali, Miro, and various others.  But I absolutely cannot imagine trying to see the Museo Del Prado in 2 hours so admission is definitely worth the 14 Euro.  You need to spend at minimum 4 hours there to get a good appreciation, and then you would just be skimming the surface. Not to be missed in the Museo Del Prado are:

"Saturn Devouring His Son" by Francisco Goya via
The Goya section is a major highlight of the Museo Del Prado.  The entire Goya "Black Paintings" selection is completely involving, especially this piece and the paintings of witchcraft and warlocks.  The color palate is dark and smoky, almost like you are standing in a dark room looking at them.  Your eyes have to strain to see the details.  It's an incredible effect. Remember, these were painted in the early 1820s but there is something so shockingly modern to them.  And again, until you are up close and see those individual brush strokes, and the layers of paint it takes to make that "looking into a tunnel at the dark places of humanity effect," you can't really appreciate how impressive these are.

"Las Meninas" by Velazquez via
Of course there's a large selection of Spanish favorite Velazquez.  As the royal commissioned artist of his time, he has a ton of royalTy paintings, none probably as self aware and celebrated as "Las Meninas" above where you can see the artist painting a portrait of the king and queen reflected in a mirror in the back of the room. Look carefully and you can spot them!

small section from "Garden of Earthly Delight" by Heironymous Bosch via
There are few sections of the museum where you are going to have wait your turn even though with the incredible expanse of a museum like the Prado you'd expect to be the only one in each room.  Not so.  You'll have to stake your ground for Goya and Velazquez favorites of course, but the biggest line was at the "Garden of Earthly Delight" by Bosch.  The reason?  Looking at Bosch is like looking at a really trippy 70s album cover; there's a ton going on in every few centimeters.  As you can see in this sampling above (and follow the link above to more detail isolations), there is a lot of seriously creepy stuff going on.  Take into account that this was painted sometime between 1490 and 1510, and you have arguably the most fascinating painting in the building and people definitely appreciate that.

"Virgen and Child Surrounded by Angels" by Jean Fouquet via
So because I had stamped out Bosch as the main target of our attack, we spent a lot of time in the Medieval art section as a side effect.  You don't realize how much there is to see At the Prado when you first get started.  After looking at a ton of religious paintings, you start to recognize the truly zany ones for how special they are.  This Fouquet painting dated at 1450 was a scene stealer.  The strange proportions of Mary's forehead, the weird blue and red angels that look like medieval gummy bears.  This painting is so far ahead of its time its shocking.  I can almost see cubism coming out of her giant forehead.  This painting was a temporary exhibit last spring, so I hope it's still there for you to see on your visit.  I keep finding myself contemplating this one at odd times.  The colors!  The weirdness!  You may be surprised at what art sticks with you.

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