Prado Museum History

The Prado Museum is undoubtedly one of the most famous museums in Spain.

However, the art museum’s rich history has significantly affected its stunning architecture.

In 1785, architect Juan de Villanueva constructed the structure that now houses the Museo Nacional del Prado.

King Charles III had it built to hold the Natural History Cabinet.

The building’s final function, however, was selected by the monarch’s grandson, King Ferdinand VII, urged by his wife, Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza.

The Royal Museum, later renamed the National Museum of Paintings and Sculptures and then the Museo Nacional del Prado, opened to the public for the first time in November 1819.

This article will help you understand the Prado Museum’s history and architecture more in detail.

Prado Museum History Timeline

1785: Juan de Villaneuva opted for a Neoclassical style while designing the Natural Science Museum. However, the Napoleonic Wars interrupted the construction.

1819: It was completed under King Ferdinand VII (grandson of Charles II), who reopened it to the public as the Royal Museum of Painting.

1868: It became the National Museum of Prado after the exile of Isabelle II, who extended the collection from the royal palaces and Escorial.

1872: The museum received notable donations from Spanish Convents and monasteries.

1881: The museum received several donations, along with Barón Emile d’Erlanger’s donation of Goya paintings.

1971: Prado annexed the Casón del Buen Retiro, built as a ballroom for the Buen Retiro Palace.

2002: Work on the new facility began, with funds allocated to expand the collection and allow more guests to enjoy it.

2007: Completion of the new wing by Rafael Monroe, which extended the museum grounds by 235,000 square feet (22,000 square meters).

History of the Prado Museum in a Nutshell

Prado Museum in a Nutshell
Image: Tiqets.com

The Prado Museum was designed by celebrated Spanish Architect Juan de Villaneuva in 1785.

Initially, it was constructed to house the Natural History Cabinet, commissioned by King Charles III.

But in 1819, it was reopened by King Ferdinand VII, the grandson of King Charles, as the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures.

He made this decision after encouragement from his wife, Queen Maria Isabel, to show Europe the importance of Spanish art.

Visitors could enjoy works from art masters like Bosch, Titian, Rubens, and other artists who showcased life’s struggles and its meaning through their art.

The museum’s royal collection significantly increased in the 16th century, during the reign of Charles V.

Its inaugural catalog, issued in 1819, includes 311 paintings, even though its collection at the time included around 1,510 images from the numerous Reales Sitios (Royal Residences).

Prado’s collection thrived even more in the 19th century under the succession of the Habsburg and Bourbon Monarchs.

It also saw paintings from the Museo de Arte Moderno, including works by Madrazo, Vicente López, Carlos de Haes, Rosales, and Sorolla.

Since its inception, the Museum del Prado has also received about 2,300 paintings, as well as a considerable number of sculptures, prints, drawings, and works of art.

All through bequests, donations, and purchases, which make up the majority of the new Acquisitions.

The bequest of Goya’s black paintings by Baron Emile d’Erlanger in 1881 was especially significant.

Among the works acquired through purchase in recent years are two works by El Greco, Fable and The Flight to Egypt, acquired in 1993 and 2001.

The Countess of Chinchón by Goya was purchased in 2000, and Velázquez’s Portrait of the Man Called ‘The Pope’s Barber’ was acquired in 2003.

Learn more about the Prado Museum’s fantastic collection of renowned artists in our article here.

Architecture of Prado Museum

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Prado’s collection and visitor numbers grew dramatically.

To better accommodate them, the Villanueva building was expanded numerous times, to the point where further intervention was no longer conceivable.

At this moment, the museum’s development was solved by creating a new building facing the Prado’s east facade and joining the two structures from within.

Here’s a breakdown of the Prado Museum’s design:

Expansion of the Museum

Image: Arquitecturaviva.com

The extension of the museum began when the Villanueva building underwent an expansion to house more artwork.

Museo del Prado authorities started constructing a new building connecting the other two buildings from within.

The project took six years and was part of the museum’s modernization efforts. 

The museum’s most recent steps toward modernization occurred in 2004 when modifications to its legal and statutory framework were authorized.

Also, coinciding with the implementation of its most recent and ambitious development plan (2001–2007).

These changes were made in response to the museum’s demand for more flexible management, faster performance, and increased self-financing capacity.

The Museo Nacional del Prado Act of November 2003 and a second amending statute adopted by Royal Decree on March 12, 2004, established the museum’s new status.

El Casón del Buen Retiro

It is the annex of the Museo del Prado, housing the museum’s study center and library.

The Cason formed part of the ensemble that included Buen Retiro Palace, of which only the Cason and Salon de Reinos survive.

It was designed by architect Alonso Carbonel, who completed the building some years later in 1637.

The Hall of Realms

Hall of Realms
Image: Aasarchitecture.com

The Hall of Realms, known as the Salon de Reinos, was designed via an international competition.

Foster + Partners L.T.D. and Rubio Arquitectura S.L.P. both submitted design concepts.

The winning design was behind the remodeling and restoration of the former Buen Retiro Palace.

North Wing Galleries

As a result of storage issues to house internal museum services in 2004, the second gallery was removed from the permanent collection route.

It was then used as a temporary storage space for works of art, offices, and the restoration of support studios.

Jheronimus Bosch Gallery

Jheronimus Bosch Gallery
Image: Nytimes.com

Along with Samsung as its technology Sponsor, the Prado Museum built and reopened its Bosch installation.

This gives visitors a chance to test their radical thinking from a technical point of view.

The Ionic Sculpture Gallery

The Prado Museum’s architecture has refurbished the space of the North Ionic Sculpture.

It is located next to the central gallery on the first floor to increase the visibility of the sculptures and decorative arts in the permanent collection.


When was the Prado Museum built?

The Prado Museum was founded in 1819, although its building was built in 1785.

It is now one of the most visited sites in the world and is considered an essential landmark in the country.

What is the historical context in which the Prado Museum was built?

Charles III built the Prado Museum as the Natural History Cabinet.

However, his grandson, King Ferdinand, reopened it as the Museum of Painting and Sculptures.

This was done after encouragement from his wife, Queen Maria Isabel, to showcase Royal Spanish art to the public.

What is the architectural style of the Prado Museum?

Juan de Villaneuva built the museum in the Neoclassical style.

Which gives Prado a unique elegance that has been maintained for more than two centuries.

What events or incidents shaped the Prado Museum’s history?

The initial construction of the museum, which began in 1785, was interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars.

Besides that, Prado wasn’t affected by significant historical events or incidents.

Is there a guided tour to explain the Prado Museum’s history?

You can buy a guided tour to the Prado Museum for the best experience.

Have a guide navigate you through the highlights of the museums while giving you the exclusive history and stories behind each artwork.

Featured Image: Museodelprado.es

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