Prado Museum in Madrid is not only declared the premier art destination in Spain but also included in the top 10 museums worldwide according to many art ranking lists. Whether you are a diehard Baroque head or Renaissance lover, you will find what you are looking for.
See also: What to see in Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and 13 Most Famous Museums in Spain
Let’s review the most outstanding paintings and tips that may come in handy once you are there.
Must-see Paintings in Prado National Art Museum
Spanish painters greatly influenced European art during the entire period of its development, together with French, Dutch, Italian, and other masters. In Prado, you will find the most extensive collection of masterpieces by the greatest artists, such as Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, as well as Goya, El Greco and Velazquez, whom Spain is so proud of. Here are 17 breathtaking paintings you must see when visiting Madrid.
1. Raphael, The Cardinal (1510)
If needed to name three mainstays of the Renaissance, critics would mention Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and, for sure, Raphael. His The Cardinal is the number one exhibit that plenty of tourists are gathering around.
Raphael painted the portrait during his residence in Rome. Art historians still disagree on the identity of the depicted person. Allegedly, the cardinal is either Cardinal Francesco Alidosi or Cardinal Bendinello Suardi.
The painting turned out discreet and catchy: three dominant colors – red, black, and white – form an intensive contrast, so the picture does not need any more “noise.” Thus, the absence of exquisite details on the canvas makes the composition stringent and the member of Rome’s church – particularly distinguished.
2. Peter Paul Rubens, The Three Graces (1635)
If you see voluptuous nude females inscribed into mythological plots, you are most likely standing in front of Rubens, a Flemish painter of the 17th-century Baroque period. One of his most remarkable pieces is The Three Graces, presented in Prado Museum.
In the picture, you see the Goddess of charitable deeds, the Goddess of pleasant charm, and the Goddess of gratitude, who, according to Greek mythology, shared empathy and grace with mere mortals. They are standing in the circle, absolutely naked, with only translucent pieces of fabric enveloping their bodies.
Despite the spacious garden and azure sky in the backdrop, the trinity of divas is all the observer desires to scrutinize.
3. Peter Paul Rubens, The Judgement of Paris (1633–1643)
Another masterpiece by Rubens displayed in Prado is the well-known The Judgement of Paris, not the capital of France as one has in mind but the son of King Priam of Troy.
The painting depicts the famous plot: being chosen by Zeus to decide which Goddess – Hera (on the left), Aphrodite (in the middle), or Athena (on the right) – is the most beautiful, Paris awards the golden apple to Aphrodite.
Rubens appreciated this mythological story as a tasty morsel, given a chance to again paint a dainty female body. To let a viewer explore all sides of it, the master uses a clever trick: he builds one ideal body structure for all three goddesses and makes them “rotate” in the picture, exposing the front, the side, and the back.
Paris himself is wearing the clothes of a shepherd, and Hermes has a winged hat. This particular moment, according to Greek mythology, will lead to the abduction of Helen and the Trojan War.
4. Heironymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1480-1505)
Bosch might be the most enigmatic artist of all time. Nobody knows his sponsors, the date of birth, and the messages behind his works. The Garden of Earthly Delights is no exception.
The triptych has exterior and interior panels. When the wings are closed, the viewer sees the globe. Supposedly, Bosch expressed the creation of the world here. The inside part consists of three different plots. On the left is the Garden of Eden, where God introduces Adam and Eve to each other. In the center, the earthly realm is shown with naked men and women, weird creatures, animals, and hallucinatory images.
If you take a closer look, you realize that all figures are busy with different activities: they play sports, talk, experience sensual pleasure, and engage in overt, shameless acts. On the right, Hell is illustrated. You observe fires, tortures, humans vomiting, and demonic creatures eating flesh.
Bosch painted the world waiting for people, unable to resist the temptations. The Garden of Earthly Delights is exceptionally detailed, so get ready to catch all the little stories on the piece.
5. El Greco, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest (1580)
Although El Greco was born in Crete, his mature art period started after immigrating to Toledo, Spain. You could barely wrap up his style in one word. Relying on Venetian Renaissance, he was the one to rouse the Mannerism movement and remarkably influenced Expressionism and Cubism ultimately.
The painter sought to distance from “nature” motifs and create a new form of the human body, non-naturalistic, expressive, and asymmetric. El Greco’s The Nobleman with his hand on his Chest, encountered in Prado, depicts an unknown person with an acutely elongated face, fingers, and the whole upper body.
There is nothing extra – only the dark background, the man, and his memorable tense gaze at the viewer. Too bad we will never know who this person was.
6. El Greco, The Holy Trinity (1577–1579)
Another piece by El Greco you can discover in Prado Museum is the legendary The Holy Trinity. This painting was highly acclaimed at the time and marked a watershed in the artistic career of the master.
Step back a little bit and look carefully: Jesus is soaring to the hands of God, surrounded by six angels. His pose is odd due to a heavy human body being crucified. The viewer also sees a dove overhead which supposedly epitomizes Holy Spirit.
El Greco has also outdone himself with a color palette and created a delicate combination of vivid shades. Olive, purple, violet-blue, and scarlet robes contrast the pale bodies making the painting eye-catchy.
El Greco succeeded in illustrating this crucial religious scene of Holy Trinity glorification, so don’t miss it once you are in Prado Museum!
7. Titian, Danaë and the Shower of Gold (1560-1565)
Those, who admire Titian, know where to encounter his largest collections. For instance, Prado Museum displays 30 masterpieces by the prominent Venetian painter of the 16th century, and one of the most remarkable is Danaë and the Shower of Gold.
It is worth mentioning that Titian made at least six attempts to paint this scene, and all the pictures are dispersed throughout the continents. According to the prophecy, Danaë’s first child would kill her father, so the princess was isolated in the tower. Nevertheless, Danaë gets seduced by Zeus with a shower of gold and gives birth to a son eventually.
A gorgeous naked diva is lying on the duvet, watching golden coins tumble through the clouds creaking open. On the right, an old lady is trying to catch them being overwhelmed with greed. The color palette is soft, muffled, and appealing. You will spend plenty of time observing this masterpiece before you know it.
8. Titian, The Fall of Man (Adam and Eve) (1570)
Religious themes featured prominently in Titian’s art. In The Fall of Man, the painter interpreted the story of Adam and Eve, a crucial and the most well-known biblical episode. Notably, the painting inspired Rubens to copy it 80 years later in his own way.
There are three characters on the canvas: Eve standing next to the tree, Adam sitting in front of her, and a serpent with a half-human body crawling along the trunk. Poofy clouds are hanging over the green meadow in the background. We see the moment of the tempter giving an apple, a forbidden fruit, to stunning Eve and Adam trying to stop her. And we all know what will happen next.
9. Rembrandt, Artemisia (1634)
When you think of Dutch art, Rembrandt is the most probable name to pop into your head. Many artists envied his skill in rendering unbelievably psychological, sensual, dark portraits, and one can read the whole story just by looking in the figure’s eyes. In Prado Museum, you will find Rembrandt’s Artemisia or Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes.
The painting gives aesthetic pleasure to anyone regardless of proficiency in art, although there are numerous artistic symbols on canvas. The lady in the center is Judith. She is wearing glorious embroidered attire encrusted with gemstones and gold braids. Her neck is adorned with pearls, her skin is porcelain, and soft blush is glowing on the woman’s cheeks. Judith sits on a velvet armchair, and her left hand is on the table covered with gorgeous brocade cloth. Judith is welcomed with a drink given to her by a young lady on the left. This incredible work deserves hours of examination!
10. Caravaggio, David with the head of Goliath (1600)
Prado Museum will delight you with Caravaggio’s art if you are fond of Italian Baroque. Like many artists of this period, he loved repainting his own works, so here, in Madrid, you will discover the first version of David and Goliath. Two other paintings on the same them reside in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum and Galleria Borghese in Rome.
In the picture, you see David kneeling on a massive Goliath. On Goliath’s severed forehead, we see a wound from the stone thrown at him by a young man. The facial expressions of both lack the burst of emotions, unlike other paintings based on that plot. A soft color palette, dim lighting, and darkness make the scene intimate and quiet; there is no place for remarkable victory or drama. Surprisingly, the painting leaves a viewer in blissful peace.
11. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Immaculate Conception (1767)
Another Italian master displayed in Prado is Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. His signature style is religious thematics and a sandy-peachy-light-blue palette. Earlier Tiepolo’s works were used as altarpieces, and nowadays, tourists often choose to buy his reproductions because they fit perfectly into the interior.
The Immaculate Conception shows a soaring Virgin Mary in the center and little angels praising her. Pay attention to the circle of pellucid stars and the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, over Mary’s head. Notably, she is stomping a snake – such a metaphor represents her triumph over evil.
12. Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas (1656)
Spanish people are proud of Velazquez’s heritage in the same way Italians honor Leonardo Da Vinci. You will find the whole room devoted to his works in Prado, including La Meninas, one of the most meaningful in European art.
The picture has a one-of-a-kind composition. When looking at Las Meninas, it is becoming more and more confusing. The princess, Infanta Margarita, is standing in the center, surrounded by maids-of-honors (“meninas” in Spanish), the dwarves, and the Dog. Hidden in the dark background, a little mirror reflects the parents of Margarita, Mariana of Austria and Philip IV. On the left, Velazquez himself is working on a gigantic canvas.
The artist is looking right at the viewer, so you start feeling like being the drawing object and getting engaged. Fantastic Velazquez’s work with light and shadows is suitably applied in Las Meninas. There are a few light sources, so the process of analyzing the space is certainly worth your time.
13. Diego Velázquez, The Crucified Christ (1632)
Unlike Titian and El Greco, Velazquez was not so interested in the religious theme. Yet he produced a significant artwork, The Crucified Christ, based on the well-known biblical episode.
Critics agree that this painting, first of all, aims to devise a perfect image of Jesus Christ as the most beautiful of all men. Apollonian anatomy and pale skin merge into a divine figure hanging on the cross. The color palette is soft and dim, typical of Velazquez’s style.
The canvas is enormous so that the viewer can feel the monumentality of the painting and the tension. Even if you have seen plenty of works devoted to crucifixion, this particular Velazquez’s masterpiece will stick in your head.
14. José de Ribera, The Bearded Woman (1651)
Another Spanish painter presented in the Prado Museum is Jose de Ribera. Although he is less known than Goya or Velazquez, Ribera’s The Bearded Woman depicts an unusual fetish of 17th-century artists – people with bodily oddities.
Individuals posing in the painting are Magdalena Ventura, her husband, Felix, and their baby. Locals knew Magdalena as she had a full beard, most probably due to hormonal dysfunction. Ribera approaches the portrait with all respect and creates a powerful and dignified image of a woman. She looks directly at the spectator, feeling no shame for the peculiarity. That’s a great example of how to tell people correctly about the diversity of human nature.
15. Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring a Son (1819-1823)
Francisco Goya, a Spanish painter, was one of the last Old Painters. During his late years, he created a series of horrendous, intense works called Black Paintings, one of which is Saturn Devouring a Son.
Goya expressed a Roman mythological plot. Saturn was prophesied to suffer the same fate as his father – being overthrown by his son. So, in order to avoid this fate, Saturn ate his children. God is devouring the baby’s tiny, pale body in the picture, and his eyes are wide-open and crazy, indicating the total agony of Saturn. So, if you go to Prado Museum with kids, think twice before stepping towards this painting.
16. Francisco Goya, the naked Maja (1797-1800)
For those who love examining provocative art, Prado Museum presents Nude Maja by Francisco Goya. An exceptional painting caused heated debate about its decency in due course, so let’s figure out why.
Nude Maja turned out revolutionary because of the sexual message. Maja is lying on the couch, absolutely naked, in a scandalous pose, clearly indicating desire. Compare this depiction of a woman to paintings by Renaissance, Mannerism, and Baroque artists. Maja is not a religious or mythological figure whose voluptuous body reflects the natural female magnificence. She is a secular, mysterious lady with visible pubic hair, the first in world art history.
However, the picture could barely get called vulgar. Maja represents an independent woman, not an object of male appreciation. After showing Nude Maja to the world, Goya was dismissed from the position of court painter but never regretted creating such a captivating piece.
17. Francisco Goya, The Drowning Dog (1819–1823)
One of the most memorable pictures in the Prado Museum is The Dog by Francisco Goya. A small creature absorbed by an infinite dark – what a grievous plot!
The Dog is another piece of the Black Paintings collection. Its composition is pretty extraordinary for the nineteenth century: the canvas is mostly ochre and has a curved brown part below. The viewer sees a small black head of a dog, and its eyes are pleading for help, but nobody can come to the rescue. The immense background is pressing upon the animal, enhancing the tragedy’s enormity.
Prado Museum Hours & Tickets
If you are interested in visiting the Prado Museum, here is some basic information you will need:
- Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10PM to 8PM; Sunday and holidays from 10PM to 7PM. Bear in mind that the museum is closed on some holidays.
- Tickets cost from €7.5 to €15.
- You can visit the museum for free from 6PM to 8PM (Monday to Saturday) and from 5PM to 7PM on Sundays and holidays
- Before your visit, you should buy tickets on the official site or at the ticket office.
- Group and individual tours are available.
All information you will find on the official site:
Overall, Prado Museum is one of my favorites in Europe. If you only begin your trip to the world of art, Prado is a great start. If you already have experience examining Goya, Raphael, Velazquez, and Bosch, the museum displays plenty of must-see artworks which will leave you in awe. I recommend printing the museum’s guide in pdf to know where your favorites reside exactly. So, have your map, spare a couple of hours, and dive into the fantastic collections of Museo del Prado!