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The Prado Museum (Madrid)

The Prado Museum  (Madrid)

Written  by Alfonso Elizondo

Fortunately, Spain’s drastic economic and political decline in the last decade is still not reflected in the Prado Museum, its wonderful cultural and artistic treasure. This museum has not yet experienced the appalling phenomenon occurring in the major museums in Paris, Rome and Florence, where groups of small local mafias have taken control of the scheduled admission of foreign visitors. One can still access the Prado Museum without passing through their hands and without the main schedules and spaces of the museum being controlled by these groups. Management of visiting groups by museum employees is so poor that the vast majority of the most important spaces are always crowded, there is a total lack of control in the flow of visitors and it is impossible to peacefully enjoy almost any of the most famous works of art.

Luckily, apart from that negative element, probably caused by a decadent Spanish bureaucracy that is becoming increasingly inefficient and shows no interest in anything other than keeping their jobs, the Prado Museum still has a collection of sculptural and pictorial works of art that reflect the evolution of European art. These range from the classical period of the Roman Empire, which openly copied the perfectionist style of the Greeks, to the enigmatic beginnings of Medieval art, through the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods, to the early stages of modern expressionism – long before the German geniuses – with the incredible gem of Goya’s ‘black painting,’ coming almost a century before ‘German expressionism,’ the precursor of today’s modern art.

In presenting a brief account of the best works in the Prado Museum it could be said that, aside from the great sculptural gems left by the Roman Empire, in the forefront of the great artistic collection is Jerónimo Bosh, the Flemish painter who managed to capture the main religious concepts of Christianity and its rigorous controls, even before the discovery of the concepts of volume and space that would emerge with the great pre-Renaissance geniuses, such as Masaccio and Masolino and later the two great figures of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.  These two geniuses discovered the human figure in its most beautiful dimensions, the concept of volume, its location in space and its first most famous emotional expressions such as joy, hate, love, sadness and revenge.

Perhaps the most important moment in Renaissance painting was when the young Masaccio, working with his teacher, Masolino, depicted a human figure with feet on the ground for the first time in history and a third dimension of space was created. This only happened towards the end of 15th century with the painting of stories of the biblical creation, the birth of Christ and his interaction with officials of the Roman Empire living in Jerusalem. Even before the creation of Florence’s Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Carmine, all existing paintings of humans were of floating figures and the volume of their bodies was conveyed by using different color ranges and by diminishing the size of objects as they moved out of the foreground.

After Tintoretto and Titian, several great painters emerged in Spain, leading to the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque; painters like Velázquez and Rubens, who were the most important figures during the transition of the monarchy from the Habsburgs to the Bourbons – who are still in power and in a dismal state –  in addition to the culmination of all Spanish painting in the great genius of Goya, who was always the enemy of all political formulas that didn’t provide protection for the lower social classes.

Addendum: It could be said that, for better or for worse, the Prado Museum relates, without much distinction, the history of the Spanish monarchy from the period before the Reconquest. It’s the story of a great country which became master of the whole known world during the empire of the first royal descendants who emigrated from the Austrian Empire, and who are currently at the same stage of decline as all other European monarchies. They too have not had the ability to adapt the modus operandi of their state to the new reality of a digital world that