The Prado Museum in Madrid opened to the public on 19 November 1819 with a collection of 311 paintings from the royal collection, all by Spanish authors, in a building designed by the architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785 and commissioned by Charles III to house the Gabinete de Ciencias Naturales.
It was only later that Ferdinand VII, together with his wife, the Portuguese queen Maria Isabel de Bragança, the main driving force behind this Museum, took the decision to set up the Royal Museum there.
In addition to the objects on display and listed in the museum’s first catalogue, published at the time of its opening, there were 1,510 objects in reserve, also from the royal collections, which had been started in the 16th century on the initiative of Emperor Charles V and enriched by his successors, including some of the museum’s main references.
About Maria Isabel de Bragança
Maria Isabel of Bragança, wife of King Ferdinand VII and Queen Consort of Spain from 1816 until 1818, was the daughter of John VI of Portugal and his wife, Queen Carlota Joaquina. She was the eldest sister of Pedro IV of Portugal (Pedro I of Brazil).
Maria Isabel of Bragança stood out for her interest in culture and affection for art. She took the initiative to collect artworks from the Spanish monarchs to create a royal museum, the future Prado Museum.
Because she died a year before the opening, Maria Isabel de Bragança did not attend the opening of the museum, but her important role in founding it has not been forgotten.
Maria Isabel de Bragança has a portrait in the Museum dating from 1829, by Bernardo López Piquer, entitled “María Isabel de Braganza como fundadora del Museo del Prado”.
In the image, Maria Isabel de Bragança points with her right arm to a place visible through a window, and with her left hand she reveals some plans for the construction of the museum deposited on a table, on parchments or papers.
According to Pedro de Madrazo, author of the catalogue of the Royal Museum’s paintings (a document dated 1854) “it was Queen Maria Isabel of Bragança who suggested the idea (of creating the Museum) to the King, by ‘escitacion’ of some personalities who loved the Fine Arts, an idea that the King welcomed with real enthusiasm”.
Image: María Isabel de Braganza as founder of the Prado Museum
LÓPEZ PIQUER, BERNARDO
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