The Differences Between Madrid’s Most Popular Museums

Madrid has some of the best museums in the world. The capital of Spain is proud of the quantity, and quality, of its museums as well as temporary exhibitions. There are types for people of  all ages. The exhibition variety in Madrid consists of numerous museums, galleries, and cultural centers, both public and private. Among all these museum spaces, the well-known Paseo del Arte (Art Triangle), which is comprised of the Prado, Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, stands out. This area of ​​Madrid creates one of the most interesting artistic panoramas on the planet, especially since each museum is truly unique.

The Prado Museum

The Prado Museum was originally the Royal Cabinet of Natural History back during the power of King Carlos III in the 18th century. A great Spanish architect of that day, Juan de Villanueva, designed a large building with a classic and elegant style. However, after the Napoleonic wars, the building was mostly abandoned and unused.

Fortunately, the second wife of King Ferdinand VII in the early nineteenth century realized the potential that this magnificent building could have, especially being located in the heart of Madrid. For that reason, in 1819 the Queen inaugurated the Museum of the Royal Collections, where a selection from the art collections of Spanish Kings throughout history were carefully collected for centuries to be exhibited. Some years later, the name was changed to “Museo del Prado” since the entire area was originally called El Prado de San Jerónimo. Behind the museum,  there actually stands the medieval church of Los Jerónimos.

Between 2001 and 2007, the museum underwent renovations  and expansion by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, who created buildings for temporary exhibitions, and was responsible for remodeling and modernizing some of the Juan de Villanueva’s building.

In addition, the Prado Museum is known as the Prado Campus, since there are various buildings that compose it, such as the Casón del Buen Retiro, the former ballroom of the disappeared (likely destroyed by Napoleon) Palacio del Buen Retiro, and today’s Prado Library. Soon the museum will be expanded again with a new building, the Baroque Salón de Reinos,“Kingdoms Hall,” which is also part of the Palacio del Buen Retiro It will be modified and renovated by the great British architect Norman Foster.

Currently, the Prado Museum offers great masterpieces by leading artists such as Goya, Tiziano, Velázquez, Rubens, Fra Angelico, Bosch, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Poussin, Tintoretto, Veronese, Murillo, El Greco, Sorolla, Van Dyck , Dürer, Rafael, Roger van der Weyden, and more …

Reina Sofia Museum

In 1992, the Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum (MNCARS in Spanish) was inaugurated, and is now considered one of the best and most complete modern art galleries in the world.

Originally the huge building was built by the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini during the time of King Carlos III in the 18th century, as the Prado Museum. But this building actually ended up being the General Hospital of Madrid. In the 20th century, it spent many years abandoned until it underwent a deep makeover to be turned into the museum it is today.

Inside you can see masterpieces of the great modern artists, including Dalí, Picasso, Miró, Sorolla, Juan Gris, Max Ernst, Chillida, Henry Moore, Yves Klein, Diego Ribera, and Roy Lichtenstein. This museum also preserves the world-renowned  canvas of El Guernica of Picasso, a painting that is a call to peace and reflection of the horrors of war.

In 2001, the great French architect Jean Nouvel won the international competition to make a new extension to the building of the Reina Sofía Museum, normally reserved for offices and large temporary exhibitions, as well as the library. The groundbreaking red design in red features a common roof over three different buildings, giving it an eclectic and groundbreaking style.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

The third axis in the Art Triangle in Madrid is the impressive Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, undoubtedly the best private art collection of the 20th century.

It started at the end of the 19th century, when the steel industry entrepreneur Baron August Thyssen-Bornemisza, bought a collection of marble sculptures designed by the famous artist Rodin. Even today, that collection can be seen in the museum lobby. His successor, his son Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, continued the collection until his son Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (known as Heini) greatly expanded it. This varied collection covers art from the Middle Ages until the twentieth century, and is preserved in Switzerland. Heini married his fifth wife,  former Spanish Miss Universe Carmen Cervera (known as Tita Cervera), the current Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza. In 1992, probably in part due to the influence of Carmen Thyssen, Baron decided to move the collection to Madrid, and in that same year the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum was inaugurated. The baron died in 1994.

The museum is housed in the elegant Villahermosa Palace, an 18th-century neoclassical building located very close to the Prado. Inside you can see masterpieces of great universal artists, such as Fran Angelico, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Bernini, Goya, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Lucas Cranach, Fragonard, Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh, Pollock, Rothko, and Francis Bacon …

Without a doubt, the Art Triangle is one of the best excuses to visit Madrid. And remember that for those interested in visiting the Prado Museum, you may want to consider Buzziler’s Prado Museum Art History Tour. Your guide, Jaime, will show you a special selection of masterpieces while explaining the historic details and meanings of each painting. You’ll gain a fuller perspective on the art, and on Spanish history.

If you wish to visit any other museum, just ask us!