The capital of Spain since the 16th century, Madrid is a treasure trove of Spanish, European and international art. Especially since the 17th century reign of Felipe IV, Madrid has been a center of the art world. Madrid was home and haven to the likes of Diego de Velázquez (1599-1660), Francisco Goya (1746-1828) and Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923).
The combined collections in the city beautifully reflect this heritage. The challenge is having enough time to see everything. Here, to help, the focus of this Madrid itinerary is on the work and life of native Spanish artists.
Bear in mind that Madrid is also a treasure trove of artists’ works from all across Europe. They often hang side-by-side with native Spanish works in the same museums and churches.
If you have time only for one museum and want a good survey, it would have to be the Prado. This is also a good place to start even if you plan to visit many of the other places and collections.
The Prado is not only one of Europe’s major art museums, but also is set within a work of art itself. It is along the elegant Paseo del Prado that was built, with the museum, to enhance the beauty and public pleasures of the city. You could make a day of ambling along this wide tree-lined boulevard and visiting the Prado.
Throughout Madrid is a wealth of visual feasts for all tastes.
For prehistory buffs, see the remake of Altamira cave’s Paleolithic polychrome cave paintings on the garden grounds, under the gardens to be exact, at the Museo Nacional de Arqueología. After visiting the cavern, visit the rest of the museum to see the rich artistry of Spain’s archaeological past. This includes many artifacts from the area found under and around Madrid.
If you love Impressionism, head to the Museo Sorolla. Sorolla captured Spanish life in its day-to-day beauty, much of it at the seashore along the Mediterranean coast. His paintings show the mastery of light as much as color and form. They bring out the quiet joy and grace of the people and the landscapes he painted.
Goya can be found all across town, not only in the Prado. At the Museo Real Fábrica de Tapices you can see the tapestries he designed. His paintings are also abundant at the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which also houses a vast collection of other Spanish artists.
Near the Royal Palace, Goya’s wall-to-ceiling frescos at the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida are worth the detour. These are only the major Goyan sites, but there are many others in this city where his art is exhibited.
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For lovers of modern art, head to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sophia. There you can see Picasso’s Guernica. There you can also explore the history of ghosts in the building, long-time inhabitants who remained even after the space was restored into a world-class art museum.
Another must-see art lovers’ destination is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Then there are the churches and monasteries. Among the interesting churches are Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Atocha, San Francisco El Grande, and Iglesia de la Paloma. Among the monasteries, highlights are Convento de las Descalzas Reales and Monasterio de la Encarnacíon.
A bit north of the royal palace, the Liria Palace houses more works by Goya, as well as many other Spanish artists. Among these are El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, and Ribera. You must pre-arrange your visit because the palace remains a private residence.
Then there is the living and unfolding art of everyday life in this art and culture-loving city. Consider visiting from mid-October to mid-June when the city celebrates the Festival of Autumn to Spring, Fiesta de Otoño a Primavera. Venues throughout the entire city plan diverse activities, including theater, music, and exhibits.
Year-round and often, spontaneous art, music, and performance appears in the public squares and passageways.
And lastly, another unexpected art venue is the Sunday flea market, called El Rastro. It unfolds in and around the street Calle de Ribera de Curtidores, about 700 meters south of the Plaza Mayor. Here, heaps of bric-a-brac can hide serious art treasures in painting, sculpture and glass. (Just watch your purse and pockets; pick-pocketing is a high art form here, too.)