Although our stay in Madrid was brief, it was definitely rich in cultural experiences. This city is a fuse of American companies like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, as well as purely Spanish traditional gems. One site unique to Spain is the Museo Nacional del Prado. El Prado is one of the most visited museums in the world and is home to European art from the 12th century to early 19th century.
An exhibition we were lucky to see was the first ever to be devoted to artist Jean Simeon Chardin in Spain. Chardin, a French painter, was extremely multitalented and always kept the viewer guessing as to what or whom he would paint next. From meat (La Raya, 1725) to children (La niña con el Volante, 1737), Chardin flawlessly captured the true essence of his subjects. I was particularly moved by Soap Bubbles, which was of a boy blowing bubbles outside a window. This painting was to striking that one would never realize this was one of Chardin’s earliest paintings to include people.
Another exciting and humbling moment in El Prado was when I saw Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. This 1656 painting is one of the most famous and widely observed works from the Spanish Golden Age. Since I had only previously seen this famous work in textbooks, it was almost surreal to finally be seeing the real thing. I could actually see the strokes, the details and the delicate lighting that Velázquez intended in his masterpiece.
After El Prado, we ventured to the Palacio Real de Madrid, or the Royal Palace of Madrid. This gigantic white palace was once inhabited by King Charles III and several other significant figures within the Spanish monarchy. We toured about 20 of the over 2,000 vastly decorated rooms within this place too big to call a mansion. Each individual room had a theme and was literally decorated from floor to ceiling. The walls were covered in moldings made out of porcelain, marble and gold. Charles III even had a room dedicated solely to the art of getting dressed. While walking through the palace, I tried to imagine was royal Spanish life was like during the 18th and 19th centuries. The sheer magnitude of wealth and power that these monarchs enjoyed almost seemed unfathomable. I absolutely loved my time in Madrid and felt that in one day I was able to walk in the shoes of famous painters, sculptors, and kings.