El Prado Museum, or Museo del Prado, is the most important national art museum in Madrid and in Spain, the second most-visited in Europe (after Le Louvre in Paris) and one of the most visited in the world. The Prado collection focuses solely on European art with the emphasis on the Spanish art. Currently, the Spanish portion of the collection is comprised of almost 4900 paintings dating from the 12th century religious art to the 19th century pieces. El Prado has an incomparable collection of works by Francisco Goya and by Diego VelГЎzquez. The most famous painting in El Prado is Las Meninas by Diego VelГЎzquez, whose role in the development of the El Prado museum is measured not only in his own contributions to the collection, but the immense help he provided in acquiring paintings from Italy.
The original building of the Museum was designed and built in 1785 by Juan de Villanueva, but the decision to make it an art museum had not been made until early 19th century. The Royal Museum, as it was known shortly before being named the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture, opened to the public in 1819. Its aim was to showcase the art collected by the Spanish Crown, as well as to present the Spanish school of art to the world. The museum was renamed Museo del Prado upon its nationalization in 1868.
The Royal Collection makes up the quintessential part of the El Prado collection. Many masterpieces now on show had been acquired by the Spanish royalty: these include Las Meninas by VelГЎzquez, The Family of Charles IV by Francisco Goya, The Three Graces by Peter Paul Rubens, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, Albrecht DГјrer's Self-portrait, and other works by Rafael, Tintoretto, El Greco and Titian. Donations and legacies also play an important role in the enrichment of the collection which now numbers close to 22 000 works of art (paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, documents and art objects).
The El Prado Museum is a gorgeous three-storey building with its main entrance marked by the seated statue of Diego VelГЎzquez. The museum has exactly 100 art galleries and rooms, a cafe and a restaurant, as well as a large bookstore and several souvenir shops. El Prado is open Monday to Saturday 10:00-20:00, and Sundays and public holidays 10:00-19:00. The museum is closed January 1, May 1 and December 25.