Book Review: The Prado

The Prado
F. J. Sanchez Canton

The Prado Museum, in Madrid, is one of the brightest jewels of Western culture and F. J. Sanchez Canton was its director, having worked there, as a scholar, for over five decades. The Prado is his authoritative introduction to the institution’s rich history and its unparalleled collections. One of the miracles of Spanish history is that its kings, the most powerful rulers of the Renaissance, were avid and distinguished art collectors. Even more miraculous is that their royal collections were never broken up and dispersed. The king’s centuries of patronage and careful purchases became the core collection of the Prado, which they established.

Velazquez and Goya each worked for decades as their king’s painters, producing scores of important paintings. Titian, Rubens, and Tiepolo all worked as painters for the Spanish kings, for years each, producing some of their most important works with direct royal patronage. Painting by painting with color illustration, Canton helps us understand the collection’s highlights, in part, as he understands them himself, in his professional capacity. Canton briefly mentions the condition of the paintings, taking pride in the care with which he and his predecessors have brought these masterpieces forward into our time.

The Prado was written in the 1950s, and Spain was a very different place. The fascists controlled the country and the fear of those times is present in Canton’s account of the history of this brilliant national institution. The contributions of Spain’s great families are gratefully, a bit obsequiously, acknowledged throughout the book, giving us some appreciation of the freedom of speech we, and Spain, today enjoy.

The primary readers of this book will be travelers to Madrid preparing for their encounters with the museum’s many masterpieces. But anyone wishing to understand the international development of painting from the Renaissance to the dawn of the modern era will gain fresh insights from this concise survey.

Should you be an art lover using this book to prepare for a trip to Madrid, you may intuit that a minimum of two visits to the Prado during your sojourn may be wise.


David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library