The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art.
Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and is considered one the greatest museums of art in the world. The numerous works by Francisco de Goya, the single most extensively represented artist, as well as by Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch are some of the highlights of the collection.
The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents. By 2012 the Museum will be displaying about 1,300 works in the main buildings, while around 3,100 works are on temporary loan to various museums and official institutions. The remainder are in storage.
The best-known work on display at the museum is Las Meninas by Velázquez. Velázquez and his keen eye and sensibility were also responsible for bringing much of the museum's fine collection of Italian masters to Spain, now the largest outside of Italy.
The Museo del Prado is one of the buildings constructed during the reign of Charles III as part of a grandiose building scheme designed to bestow upon Madrid a monumental urban space. The building that lodges the Museum of the Prado was initially conceived by José Moñino y Redondo, conde de Floridablanca and was commissioned in 1785 by Charles III for the reurbanización of the Paseo del Prado. To this end, Charles III called on one of its favorite architects, Juan de Villanueva, author also of the nearby Botanical Garden and the City Hall of Madrid.
The prado ("meadow") that was where the museum now stands gave its name to the area, the Salón del Prado (later Paseo del Prado), and to the museum itself upon nationalisation. Work on the building stopped at the conclusion of Charles III's reign and throughout the Peninsular War and was only initiated again during the reign of Charles III's grandson, Ferdinand VII. The premises had been used as headquarters for the cavalry and a gunpowder-store for the Napoleonic troops based in Madrid during the war.