When my husband and I were drawing up our list of places we wanted to go during our visit to Madrid last fall, the Museo Nacional del Prado came in at the top of our list. As a high school history teacher at the start of his career, Harry always incorporated art into his lesson plans to help illustrate and reveal the cultures and eras he taught. Before we met, he had already visited Europe twice and had visited ancient and historic sites as well as some of the great museums on the continent, bringing back scores of slides to share with his students. In those travels he never visited Spain but always wanted to visit the Prado. For myself, I enjoy wandering the grand galleries of museums and drinking in all the beauty of the great masters.
So it was that we saved the best for last and spent our final day in Madrid exploring the riches of the Prado. Our flight home would depart around 8 a.m. the following morning, so we booked a room at an airport hotel for that evening. We packed up our bags and said a fond goodbye to our apartment in the La Latina neighborhood, storing everything under lock and key with the property manager and promising to return well before he would be leaving that evening. A quick metro ride took us to the museum, where, due to a little foresight, we skipped the lines at the ticket windows. The afternoon before, as we returned from our day at Retiro, Madrid’s expansive urban park, we stopped in and purchased our reserved entrance ticket to avoid the morning crowds.
Seniors pay 7.5 euros, and general admission is 15, but we opted to pay for a guidebook with one admission for 24 euro — a great deal. The guide was newly produced for the 200th anniversary of the museum and features more than 400 color photos in nearly 500 pages. It also offers information about each major era and biographies of the artists, along with insight into some of the major works. I’m pleased to be able to review it now, though nothing compares with being up close to the actual masterpieces.
We entered through the Jerónimos Building, a modern wing which houses guest services, an auditorium and lecture halls. With museum plan in hand, we identified the exhibits we most wanted to see but hoped to at least stroll through nearly every gallery. The Villanueva Building houses most of the galleries over three floors, each with soaring ceilings and domes. Some of the paintings are huge, mural-sized works commissioned to commemorate historic events, while elsewhere one can view delicate decorative arts and jewelry. We delighted in the Goyas, the Raphaels, the Tintorettos. It always gives me a bit of a thrill to round a corner and come across a work of art I remember first seeing in my college freshman Art Appreciation course flashed up on a screen in a dark lecture hall as I struggled to stay awake. To stand before them and be able to see the dimensionality of the paint and placement of color and shade never fails to delight me.
We took a break for lunch in the café — not horribly expensive — and spent all afternoon gorging on this feast for the eyes. We finally felt we’d taken in all that we could and headed for the doors after a quick stop in the museum shop for a few souvenirs.
There are still so many magnificent museums across the world I’d still like to visit and hope to be able to travel to them soon. In the meantime, many offer virtual tours to those of us bound at home or those who wish to revisit ones we’ve toured already. This article provides a dozen suggestions from around the globe from the traditional (the British Museum) to the modern (MoMA) to the quirky (LA’s Museum of Broken Relationships). However, just visit the website of a museum you’re interested in and many will provide an opportunity to “visit” at least part of their collections online. It’s a wonderful way to enter another world!
— Patty Vanikiotis, associate editor/copy editor
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