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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

Who Founded El Prado Museum?
Tuesday, November 23, 2021 @ 4:33 PM


Last Friday it was 202 years since the Prado opened its doors for the first time. It was on November 19, 1819, and it was built as a museum with funds from the painting and sculpture collections collected by the kings of Spain for more than three centuries.

Many attribute this merit to Fernando VII, but it should be noted that the one who really had the idea was his wife, María Isabel de Braganza. Something that Nieves Concostrina claims in her book La Historia en Apuros (Montena). In a recent interview, the writer and journalist regretted that people did not know the figure of the main promoter of it, because "it was she who changed the initial destiny of the Cabinet of Natural Sciences to the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture."

She never got to see it. Shortly before its inauguration, she gave birth to a girl and both died. She was only 21 years old. By the time the museum doors opened, Fernando VII had already married his third wife and took credit for creating the art gallery.



However, according to Carlos Navarro, the museum's 19th-century curator, he always recognised the work of the one who was his second wife. Fernando VII spent a vast amount of money to make the museum a reality, but he never hid the fact that for every penny he put in Isabel matched that amount out of her own her pocket. Something that gave her full rights as founder.

The museum opened with only 311 works. However, Isabel managed to include among them some of the most important and representative Spanish paintings, such as Las Meninas, by Velázquez or La Familia del Pajarito, by Murillo.



The idea for the project was given to her by Francisco de Goya after the queen visited the El Escorial monastery. She left there concerned by the fact that there were a large number of works that had been neglected since the War of Independence. She decided to take them out of there to expose them in the royal palace of Riofrío, in Segovia. Finally, the idea did not prosper and they refurbished the Prado palace to make the art gallery a reality there.

If you visit the Gallery, in room 39 you will see a gigantic oil painting that has hung for at least half a century. It was painted by Bernardo López Piquer in 1829 ten years after the death of the queen and named it "María Isabel de Braganza as the founder of the Prado Museum". Despite the evidence of her title, many visitors are still unaware that, without her, all those creations that they admire so much would not be there.

It is interesting to remember that in her day the room where Las Meninas is located also bore her name but, over the years, the rooms ended having their names changed to numbers.


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