The core of the Prado’s holdings came from the collection of the Spanish monarchs, whose taste ran to royal portraits and religious subjects, and whose money could buy the best of the best. The Prado has paintings of saints, miracles, and gruesome martyrdoms that are technically of high quality … but those subjects aren’t what I consider important. I’ve relegated some of the Prado’s most famous works to the More section at the end of this post; following are the five paintings I’d like to see again.
Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1498
Dürer’s most famous woodcut, the stunning Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, was issued the same year as the twenty-seven-year-old painted this self-portrait. Dürer (1471-1528) had just returned from a trip to Italy, birthplace of the Renaissance, and he’s dressed with Italian chic – although the view outside the window is of the Tyrol, near his native Nuremberg. I like the confidence in his pose. (The askance look is typical of painted self-portraits.)
Either this is a bad photo, or the painting needs to be cleaned: these colors are far too muddy for the period.
Marinus van Reymerswaele, The Moneychanger and His Wife, 1539
This is one of my favorites in a common 16th-century genre: Renaissance bankers or moneylenders keeping their books. The man holds a small scale for weighing coins. Since the edges of coins weren’t milled in this period, people often scraped off bits, changing the amount of precious metal the coins contained. For more on the content and interpretation of this genre, see this page. The Prado’s comments are here. For an example of this genre at the National Gallery in Washington, see this post.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Abraham and the Three Angels
Tiepolo (1696-1770) is best known for creating enormous painted ceilings for churches and palaces. In this painting, a mere six feet high, I like the arrogant expression and pose of the central angel, as well as the style of the brushwork and the colors. I suspect the colors in this photo are also wrong: see the images on this page on Wikimedia for Tiepolo’s typical colors.
David Roberts, The Castle of Alcala de Guadaira
Roberts (1796-1864) traveled to Spain in 1832-1833. This 16 x 19 inch painting of a castle outside Seville appeals to me for the breadth of the view, the glow of the sunset, the light on the water, and the colors. Roberts is best known for sketches and paintings that were adapted into a famous set of colored lithographs of the ruins of ancient Egypt, which Roberts visited in 1838-1839. If you ever want the perfect illustration for “Ozymandias,” look among Roberts’s images.
Santiago Rusiñol, Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1890-1895
I like monochrome palette of this striking portrait, and the subtlety with which the artist (a native of Barcelona) has shown the bone structure of the famous actress. This painting is illustrated in the 1991 coffee-table book on the Prado that I own, but it’s been moved to the Museo Reina Sofia, the museum for 20th-century art that opened in 1992 near the Prado.
- Among the Prado’s most famous paintings are Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Delights, ca. 1490-1510; Caravaggio’s David Victorious over Goliath, ca. 1599; Peter Paul Rubens’s The Garden of Love, ca. 1630-32 (see this post in my series on Rubens’s drawings); and Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas (a.k.a. the Maids of Honor, or The Family of Philip IV), ca. 1656.
- Almost made the cut: Carlos de Haes, The Picos de Europa, 1876 (or on the Prado’s site): a striking landscape. The mountain range shown is about 100 miles west of Bilbao, on the northern coast of Spain.
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