In the heart of the Spanish capital city, the Prado Museum of art in Madrid has some of Europe’s most important pieces.

The Prado is an impressive museum and its galleries are home to some magnificent exhibitions. All the great artists throughout history are there, from Leonardo da Vinci to Manet via Michaelangelo. If you travel to Madrid, you have to visit it to witness the permanent collection of drawings, sculptures, prints, and works of art from the masters!

This fine art museum is home to fine examples of realism, baroque, naturalism, classicism, and impressionism.

In this article, Superprof is looking at some of the best pieces to see when you visit the Prado museum in Madrid, Spain.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

The Garden of Earthly Delights is an oil on wood triptych painting by the Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. It was painted between 1494 and 1505 and it’s huge; nearly 3 metres wide and 2 metres tall.

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Which are the best pieces in the Prado?
It goes without saying that the left side is better than the right. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This piece depicts the Garden of Eden from the Bible, then life before the flood, then a vision of Christian hell. When the wings of the triptych are closed you can see the creation of the world.

The painting went on quite a journey before heading to the Prado:

  • It was created at the end of the 15th century.
  • It was given to the patron, Henri III of Nassau-Breda in 1503.
  • It was still in the Nassau palace in 1517.
  • It became the property of William the Silent of the House of Orange-Nassau.
  • The Duke of Alba confiscated it in 1567.
  • In 1570, it was brought to Spain.
  • The painting was ceded to the Spanish crown in 1593.
  • It was kept in the El Escorial palace until 1939.
  • The painting was then moved into the Prado today.

This painting is a perfect example of Flemish art from the Medieval period and an impressive symbolic piece that we recommend you see.

If you find yourself in France, you might want to visit the Louvre since it's one of the world's greatest art galleries.

Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya

The mythological painting of Saturn Devouring his Son was painted by the world-famous Spanish painter Francisco de Goya. If you visit the Prado, make sure you see it.

The painting, originally a mural before being transferred onto canvas, depicts a Greco-Roman myth: the Titan Saturn (Cronus in Greek) eating his son in order to stop them from taking his throne.

If you know the myth, you’ll know that it was enough when it came to Jupiter (Zeus). Goya portrays Saturn literally devouring the body of a child in a nightmarish image in the same style as Ruben two centuries earlier.

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The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden

We need to thank the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden for this spectacular biblical scene of Jesus being brought down from the cross following his crucifixion. The Descent from the Cross is an oil on wood from 1435 and an example of primitive Flemish art.

After being commissioned by the Leuven guild of archers, Mary of Austria, the sister of Charles V, came into possession of the piece.

"It was the best picture in the whole castle and even, I believe, in the whole world, for I have seen in these parts many good paintings but none that equalled this in truth to nature or devoutness. All those who have seen it were of the same opinion.” - Vicente Alvarez

This work has influenced religious painters for centuries, especially in terms of character postures. In short, you need to head to the Prado.

Las Meninas by Diego Velásquez

Literally “The Ladies-in-waiting” in English, Las Meninas is an oil on canvas from 1656-1657 painted by Diego Velásquez, a Spanish Baroque master.

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What are Velásquez's most famous pieces?
According to Thomas Lawrence, this painting is the "philosophy of art". (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The painting depicts Infanta Margaret Theresa surrounded by ladies-in-waiting, a chaperone, a bodyguard, two dwarfs, and a dog. Velásquez himself appears in the centre of the piece painting the king and queen who can be seen in the mirror.

This painting hugely influenced artists like Francisco de Goya’s Charles IV of Spain and His Family and John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.

The Three Graces by Pierre Paul Rubens

Pierre Paul Rubens is a Flemish baroque painter who’s famous for his diverse style and subjects including portraits and religious and mythological scenes. The latter is apparent in The Three Graces, a piece painted in 1639.

The Graces are part of Greco-Roman mythology, goddesses of charm that were known as Charites in Greece. They are the daughters of Zeus (Jupiter) and Eurynome. The Graces are at the service of Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love.

Each of the three Graces represents an idea or a concept:

  • Aglaea symbolises splendour
  • Euphrosyne symbolises good cheer
  • Thalia symbolises festivity

It should be noted that the Grace on the left was directly inspired by Rubens’ wife!

Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer

Self-portrait is an oil on wood panel painting from 1498 by Albrecht Dürer. This German painter, designer, and engraver played an important role in the German Renaissance and created several paintings with the inscription:

“Das malt ich nach meiner gestalt / Ich war sex und zwenzig Jor alt / Albrecht Dürer”: “I painted this from my own appearance; I was twenty-six years old; Albrecht Dürer”

However, Albrecht Dürer wasn’t just an artist, he was also a mathematician like other Renaissance artists including Leonardo da Vinci. If you go to the Prado, make sure you don’t miss this painting of him that’s an important representation of the artist’s past.

Danaë by Titian

Titian was an Italian Renaissance painter whose work you’ll recognise if you know a bit about art. In the 1550s and 1560s, he created a series of 6 pieces around the mythological character Danaë.

What should you see in the Prado?
Zeus wasn't the first God to meddle in the world of mortals. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Danaë is a mythological princess who’s prophecy foretold that her son would kill her father, Acrisius. She was locked in a tall brass tower to ensure that the prophecy wouldn’t come true. Unfortunately, Zeus transformed into a golden raindrop to reunite with Danaë. This union created the hero Perseus.

This piece depicts the moment when the gods bested man’s best efforts. In the Prado, this piece is surrounded by other mythological pieces including Venus, Bacchus, and Adonis!

If you're in New York City, you have to check out the great exhibits in the MET.

The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Triumph of Death is a piece by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a Dutch painter and engraver. It was made in 1562 and represents an allegory of death in all its forms: crime, executions, sickness, combat, and suicide.

This painting deserves your attention as it shows that nobody is above death. While this differs from the Biblical apocalypse, we can see in this piece that death is unbeatable and inevitable.

The Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco

El Greco is a Greek painter, sculptor, and architect who moved to Spain. He created The Adoration of the Shepherds between 1612 and 1614.

The Adoration of the Shepherds is a scene in Luke 2. The shepherds received news of Jesus’ birth from the Angel Gabriel and go to see the divine baby. They end up worshipping him.

El Greco finished this painting in the last year of his life and it was to be hung over his tomb but made its way to the Prado’s collection.

Discover the Musée d'Orsay's finest pieces.

Tres de Mayo by Francisco de Goya

Let’s go back to the famous Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, who, along with many other great paintings, created the Tres de Mayo painting that you can see at the Prado.

Which are the most famous Goya paintings?
Around 400 people were killed in the incident. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This piece represents an important event in Spanish history when the French army murdered Spanish revolutionaries following the coronation of Joseph, Napoleon’s Brother, following the abdication of Spain’s King Ferdinand IV. A painting that makes you think about Spanish history. Don’t miss it when you visit the Prado!

The Prado museum has plenty of examples of religious paintings, Flemish art, French art, and Spanish art, of course!

If you're planning a trip to the museum, you might want to check the upcoming events, too, since there are both permanent collections and temporary collections in the museum. The fact that art collections are regularly shared among the best museums, it means that it's a good idea to see what the current exhibitions are and it might be worth going back even if you've already visited it and seem the most popular exhibits.

What's even better about the Prado is that if there's a special exhibition you want to see, you can visit this art gallery the last two hours every day it's open to the public when there's free admission!

Of course, if you're interested in modern art, you might want to check the Museo de la Reina Sofia in Madrid which is home to the famed “Guernica” by Picasso. As for a museum of modern art, there's also the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid. Put simply, if you want to view artworks in the art museums in Madrid, you won't be disappointed.

To learn more, we recommend getting a private tutor to help you learn about art history and the greatest museums around the world. You can also learn to paint with private tutors.

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