Exhibitions Museums Spain

Animals roam free in El Prado's galleries

Artist Miguel Ángel Blanco turns the museum into a cabinet of curiosities

Miguel Ángel Blanco's intervention in the Prado: A leviathan swallows a Goddess (Room 74). Photo: Pedro Albornoz/Museo Nacional del Prado

Few people know that the Neo-Classical building that houses the Museo del Prado in Madrid was originally intended to showcase Spain’s Royal Natural History Cabinet. Designed by the royal court architect Juan Villanueva for King Charles III in 1785, it became the Museo Nacional de Pinturas y Esculturas, the Prado’s predecessor, on 19 November 1819. The monarch's vision for the building was realised posthumously on two unfortunate occasions: in 1827 and during the Spanish Civil War, objects from the collections of the Real Jardín Botánico and the Museo de Ciencias were moved to the Prado for protection.

To celebrate the 194th anniversary of the museum’s opening, the Prado has invited the Madrid-born artist Miguel Ángel Blanco, known for his fascination with nature, to curate an exhibition with objects from the National Natural History Museum. The result is an enormous cabinet of curiosities where 150 plants, minerals, and stuffed animals are presented alongside masterpieces from the Prado.

The artist’s aim of a playful interaction between art and science is best seen in the Ariadne Rotunda where a dolphin's skeleton is suspended from the ceiling in a room with two large-scale sculptures, Sleeping Ariadne, 150-175AD, and Venus with a Dolphin, 140-150AD. For Blanco “the marble-like bones of the skeleton resemble the ivory-like marble of the sculptures”. The skeleton’s shadow hovers over Venus, “leaping like a Leviathan to swallow up the goddess”, Blanco says.

The exhibition also includes Blanco's own work, Book-box no. 1072, part of his best known series, “Biblioteca del Bosque” (the forest library). The still growing series consists of 1,131 wooden containers that hold miniature landscapes made from natural elements. Book-box no. 1072 is placed in front of Lucas van Valckenborch’s Landscape with an Iron Works, 1595.

CORRECTION: This article was updated on 21 November. The Prado was originally designed to be a natural history museum, but it never fulfilled that purpose.

The Veragua Bull stands next to Rubens's The Rape of Europe. Photo: Pedro Albornoz/Museo Nacional del Prado
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20 Nov 13
20:28 CET


The building never housed the Natural History Cabinet, although it was constructed to serve that purpose. The building was inaugurated in 1819 as Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures.

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