This astonishingly diverse collection – paintings, sculptures, tapestries, glassware, porcelain and more – was originally the property of the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo. The museum’s (see Museo Cerralbo) 30,000 artifacts are housed in his palace and the rooms offer a fascinating window onto the life of Spanish aristocracy at the beginning of the 20th century.
The world-famous gallery (see Museo Nacional del Prado) is housed in Juan de Villanueva’s Neo-Classical masterpiece – an artistic monument in its own right. The relief above the Velázquez Portal depicts Fernando VII as guardian of the arts and sciences – it was during his reign that the Prado opened as an art gallery. Its strongest collection, unsurprisingly, is its Spanish artworks, particularly those of Goya.
The setting for this outstanding collection is the Palacio de Villahermosa, remodelled in the 1990s and with a dramatic new wing added in 2005. Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, widow of the preceding baron, was responsible for the salmon-pink colour scheme inside. The museum (see Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza) holds international art from the 14th century onwards.
This treasure-house (see Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) of modern Spanish art was designed as a hospital by Francisco Sabatini in 1756. The conversion to art gallery was completed in 1990. The glass lifts offer panoramic views of the city.
While the fabled treasures shipped back to Spain by Cortés, Columbus and Pizarro were exhibited as early as 1519, most of the precious items disappeared or were melted down. A great many of the ethnological and ethnographical exhibits on show here (see Museo de América) originate from Carlos III’s “cabinet of natural history”, founded in the 18th century, and the museum’s displays now embrace the entire American continent.
Founded by Queen Isabel II in 1867, the archaeological museum (see Museo Arqueológico Nacional) contains treasures from most of the world’s ancient civilizations, with an emphasis on the Iberian Peninsula. Highlights includes “Lady of Elche”, the carved sculpture of a noblewoman from the 4th century BC.
The Academy of Fine Arts (see Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando) was founded by Fernando VI in 1752 and moved into the Goyeneche Palace 25 years later. Among the highlights are works by Spanish artists El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Zurbarán and Goya, as well as an array of European masterpieces.
Spain’s greatest playwright Félix Lope de Vega lived in this house between 1610 and 1635. Now a museum (see Casa-Museo de Lope de Vega), its rooms are furnished in the style of the period, based on an inventory by the dramatist himself.
The home of Valencian artist Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923) is now a museum (see Museo Sorolla) displaying his work. Sorolla won international recognition after his paintings were shown in the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1901). His canvases are evocations of Spanish life. One of his best-loved works depicts his wife and daughter on Valencia’s seashore.
One of the many highlights of the Decorative Arts Museum (see Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas) is that it sets Spanish crafts in a European context. Highlights include a Gothic bedroom, Flemish tapestries and a lovely collection of 19th-century fans.