Spanish Language Blog

El Museo Nacional del Prado Posted by on Jan 25, 2008 in Spanish Culture


Spain has been the birthplace of some of the world’s most illustrious art masters.From El Greco and Velásquez to Picasso and Salvador Dalí, the Iberian nation has produced centuries of groundbreaking artistic expression in painting and sculpture.Many of the most important early works (from the 12th to the 19th centuries) are displayed in Madrid’s renowned Museo Nacional del Prado, the oldest of the museums making up the city’s Triángulo de Arte.Opened in 1819, the Prado museum first served both to give the public access to the crown’s vast collection and to prove to the rest of Europe that the Spanish had an artistic tradition as rich as any other nation’s. These days the museum welcomes more than two and a half million visitors a year and is a major attraction for any art lover.Many of the paintings derive from the personal collections of the Spanish royal family, art amassed by the monarchs to decorate the walls of their palaces and country homes, often through direct commission, gifts, or diplomatic offerings. El Museo Nacional del Prado has come to house the most important and extensive collections of the Spaniards El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Murillo and others, as well as important non-Spanish artists.

I could say that no trip to Madrid would be complete without a stop at this grandiose museum, except that I managed to do just that nine years ago when I visited the city with my father.Although we admired the façade of the lovely, palatial building, we regrettably did not make it past the front doors.However, the Prado’s very complete and easily navigable website allows me to partially make up for the missed opportunity.For you, it may make for a wonderful mental escape from the dreary mid-winter routine that has most of us pining for a nap by four in the afternoon.In addition to surfing through the museum’s impressive collections from the comfort of a desk chair, the website offers a chance to read authentic material in Spanish and to learn a host of art-related vocabulary.

One of my favorite online features is the “Qué ver” section, under the heading “Colección.”Here one will find three itineraries, tailored to those who have only one, two, or three hours to visit the museum, consisting of the 15, 30, and 50 most historically and aesthetically important pieces in their collection.For each of the pieces, there is a full explanation of the work’s meaning and context.For those like me with only a rudimentary knowledge of art history, this is a great place to start.

To get you started on your Spanish art exploration, here are some key words you should know:

el cuadro– painting

óleo – oil (paint)

acuarela – watercolor

acrílico -acrylic

el lienzo– canvas

la exposición – exposition/show

la obra – work (of art, theater, literature, etc.)

la obra maestra – masterpiece

la escuela española – the Spanish school

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