Reborn Prado museum to reveal hidden artworks
Oct 30, 2007, 13:37 GMT
General view of the new building of the Prado Museum (R) close to the Jeronimos church in Madrid, Spain, 27 October 2007. The Prado\'s enlargement, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, has been presented to the press this day. It will be opened to the public on 30 October with the exhibition \'21th Century at El Prado\'. EPA/KOTE RODRIGO
Madrid - A reborn Prado was presented to Spaniards on Tuesday as King Juan Carlos inaugurated the biggest enlargement in the 200-year history of one of the world's most important art museums.
The reform reflected the modernization of all of Spain and 'contributes to identifying us as a great nation,' the monarch said.
'It is not an exaggeration to say that this museum is the father of all museums of older art,' Prado director Miguel Zugaza said recently.
He said the facility 'is not very big, but what is on show is essential' to the history of Western art.
For a long time, however, the Prado had lacked for space to exhibit its treasures, with more than 3,000 paintings or sculptures hidden away in storerooms.
The enlargement designed by architect Rafael Moneo will double the museum's surface to about 45,000 square metres.
Not only will the modernization allow visitors to the Prado to better explore the roots of European art. It will also enable the museum to seek a closer interpenetration with modern art, with the first new exhibition focusing on 19th-century Spanish painters such as Francisco de Goya, Joaquin Sorolla or Mariano Fortuny.
The enlargement, which cost 152 million euros (210 million dollars), was a decade-long affair beset with controversy and protests.
In the 1990s, an architectural contest to renovate and extend the Prado ended in an embarrassing fiasco when the authorities announced that none of the 1,600 architects from all over the world had come up with an acceptable design for 'the Prado of the 21st century.'
Spanish Pritzker architecture prize winner Moneo was finally tasked with the project, but he also had to bear with a lot of criticism, not least from people living near the Prado, who objected to his decision of integrating the 17th-century Jeronimos cloister into the museum.
The cloister was taken apart, carried inside a new brick annex designed by Moneo, and rebuilt stone by stone under a glass ceiling.
The new Prado is an intriguing mixture of old and new, with the original 1819 building by Juan Villanueva forming what many experts praise as an elegant combination with the discreet and sober building by Moneo.
The old and new parts are linked by a covered pavilion with a garden.
The Villanueva building will now have more space to display works from the Prado's permanent collection, while the Moneo building will provide a venue for temporary exhibitions.
The renovated Prado also features new rooms for the restoration of paintings, a leisure area and an auditorium for more than 400 people.
The project cost three times the original budget, but Zugaza is convinced that it has been worth it.
It was high time for the Prado to carry out a reform the equivalent of which had already been done by all the other major art museums, he explained.
With an average of 2 million people visiting the Prado annually, art lovers could no longer spend an hour in enraptured contemplation of a single painting, the Prado director admitted.
'But we must prevent the visit from becoming a mere sprint,' he added.
The enlargement is expected to raise the number of visitors to 2.5 million annually, improving the financial situation of the Prado which already covers 40 per cent of its own costs.
Yet despite being Spain's most famous museum and housing works by Spanish masters ranging from Diego Velazquez to Goya, the Prado is more popular among tourists than Spaniards. About 70 per cent of the visitors come from abroad.
The new Prado will open its doors to the public on Wednesday.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur