Inside El Prado

The Museo Nacional Del Prado is 199 years old this year. Although the building was constructed in the late 1780s, it wasn't until much later, after the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, that it was conceived as the Royal Museum of Paintings, at the urging of the new king Ferdinand VII's young wife, Maria Isabel de Braganza, in order to show to the world the quality of the Spanish Royal collection and of Spanish art in particular.

This drawing of her I copied from the original in the Prado, by Vicente López Portaña.  To me, she looks pretty shellshocked, which is hardly surprising since it was painted soon after she was married off to Ferdinand, who was her uncle (and to make matters worse, not a pleasant man by the sound of things).

Royal intermarriage was a common tactic at the time (in fact the evidence of progressive inbreeding in the Spanish royal family is fairly obvious in the Prado's royal portraits of the Hapsburg dynasty from the 1500s down to 1700). María Isabel meanwhile had a short and unhappy life, her first child died after only a few months, whilst her second child was stillborn and caused her own death too, on Boxing Day 1818, less than a year before the opening of what would become the Prado, the museum she had dedicated much of her brief reign to establish.

An interesting fact I learned from Wikipedia: "Prado" is Spanish for "meadow", and the Museum gets its name from the meadow the building was built on.

As part of the bicentenary next year, the museum will unveil a new extension, that will expand the collection on display by 16%. Which is pretty big, when you consider how massive it already is. Pride of place currently goes to one of the museum's most famous pieces, the absorbing "Las Meninas" by Velázquez. "Menina" means "lady in waiting" and refers to the servants of the young princess in the centre of the picture. It was painted in 1656, and only survives today because it was cut from its frame in order save it from a fire in the palace in 1734, that destroyed many other important paintings in the royal collection.

I won't go through all my favourite paintings in the museum, but when I was last there this one below by Titian caught my eye, purely for its sense of humour. Titian clearly had a lot of fun painting all these cupids running amok, in his version of every parent's worst nightmare upon arriving to pick their child up from nursery. While Venus looks on bemused, the children are getting up to all kinds of mischief, from climbing trees, throwing apples at each other, kissing, fighting over apples, trapping a rabbit, dancing, flying, eating apples, falling asleep after eating too many apples, to, most disturbingly, practising with a little Cupid's bow and arrow.