To start with the special expositions, they have reshuffled some of their paintings by Goya to present some of his older work, which was obsessively concerned with the horrors of war. In his famous “Fusilamientos” and related works he related the horrors of the war of 1808-1809, when
Spain shook the yoke of the French occupation, but I think the trigger for this period of his artistic work was the civil war of 1809-1814, where brother fought against brother, like in his famous painting where two giants are seen fighting bitterly with staffs over the Spanish countryside. The exposition includes many of his sketches, and I have to say it has impressed me profoundly. Other paintings of note are “El Gigante”, where the profile of a giant moves away from a field where people are running in abject panic, and “El Perro”, where in a very “modern” type of composition the head of a dog seems to emerge from the sand into a brownish world.
A second special exhibition, called “Portraits from the Renaissance”, is another interesting reshuffling of some of the collection to contrast the different styles of portraits. You have all seen such portraits, where a person stands posing with a hound by his side, or with a handmaid by her side. They were the photographs of the time, and I for one barely give them a second glance. But in the renaissance the emphasis was not only on capturing the likeness of the person, but also on representing his or her character, either through the carefully chosen pose or expression, or through the symbolism of the things or people that surrounded them. Seeing on that light, and no doubt by judicious selection of the portraits presented, you actually can see in the portraits a living image of the society in which these people lived. I liked in particular the portraits (or in the case of the photo the sculpture) of couples of friends, which in many instances had the candor of a snapshot.
Finally comes the permanent collection, which is enormous and defies description. You simply have to be there and let yourself be permeated by the work of so many artists. My all time favorites was El Greco. El Greco painted mostly sacred themes, with his “Trinidad” and “La Adoración de los Pastores” being particularly powerful, and in a style that is surprisingly modern. His most famous non-sacred work, “El Soplón”, is a very small painting but it haunts you with the expressions of the monkey, the blower, and the man huddled around the glowing ember.
Other paintings in front of which I stood for a long time include “La Anunciación” of Fra Angelico; “Cristo Muerto” of Antonello de Messina (this powerful picture shows the upper torso of the dead Christ resting on the arms of a very young angel, whose face is wrought in anguish);
“El Jardín de las Delicias” of El Bosco (a late 16th century triptic, which could have been painted by Salvador Dali, shows a garden of joyful sin that eventually leads to a nightmare hell);
and “Las Hilanderas” of Velázquez (a fabulous painting within a painting, based on the challenge that Aracne made to Athena, and which ended with the sad retaliation of the goddess that condemned Aracne to spin forever in the form of a spider).
I got back home exhausted but deeply impressed by my marathon visit to El Prado!