Museum  June 28, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Madrid’s Royal Collections Museum Opens with Treasures of Spanish Royalty

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Panorama of Madrid from the San Isidro park.

On Thursday, June 29th, Madrid’s cultural landscape is set to be forever changed with the opening of the Royal Collections Museum. Destined to become a haven for art enthusiasts and boost tourism to the already popular Spanish capital city, the new museum will house an extensive collection of priceless artworks and historic artifacts that were hand-picked from around Spain to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Spanish monarchy. While this new collection is sure to be spectacular, there is also concern that the Royal Collections Gallery will hurt tourism in other regions of Spain because of the transference of objects and artworks from these cities to the new institution.

It took almost a century for this museum to open: it all started in the 1930s during Spain’s Second Republic, but for a variety of bureaucratic reasons, including the start of the Spanish Civil War, it did not become a tangible project until 1998. The project is organized by the National Heritage (Patrimoni Nacional), a department of the Spanish government dedicated to overseeing all buildings and their art collections that once belonged to the crown but now are owned by the Spanish state. 

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Façade of the Museum of Royal Collections in Madrid (Spain).

The museum is located in a new building found in the gardens of the Campo del Moro park in the center of the city. It is a neighbor to the Almundena Cathedral and the Royal Palace. The building is designed by the winners of the ideas contest, Emilio Tuñón and Luis Moreno Mansilla (Mansilla + Tuñón). They began construction in 2006 but the project quickly was halted after discovering archaeological remains in the construction zone, then again it was paused while awaiting funds to complete the interior, and then, yet again, due to the pandemic. Overall this has been a long process for Patrimonio Nacional, its chairwoman, Ana de la Cueva, and the museum’s director, Leticia Ruiz, but all their hard work is finally coming to fruition. On the subject, de la Cueva said in a quote to CNN that it has become “a modern building with sober lines, spectacular in dimension. The combination of classic art and the Baroque against these lines is very powerful.

The entire project cost a whopping €172 million ($186.8 million), but the Spanish government justifies the cost because of the implementation of the museum’s “new and necessary model for the Spanish museum scene, both in its concept and in its formulation and content,” according to the Patrimonio Nacional’s website. The museum is different from all others in Spain because it will deal with aspects of global collecting by the Spanish monarchy that have not been shown ever before.  

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Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Charles III of Spain, circa 1765. 

The Royal Collections Museum has been meticulously curated to encapsulate centuries of Spain's regal history. Renowned for their artistic patronage, the Spanish royal family has amassed an extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and decorative arts, which will now be accessible to the public for the first time in the museum's impressive galleries. It will be organized in chronological order, like a historical narrative that runs through nearly fifteen centuries of Spanish royalty.

The museum’s permanent collection will hold approximately 800 pieces selected from over 160,000 cultural assets that are inventoried in the collections of Patrimonio Nacional, Royal Libraries of the Royal Palace, Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and the General Archive of the Palace. Some highlights of this collection include masterworks by Spanish classics such as Velazquez and Goya, as well as rarely-seen artworks by little-known female artists. 

Courtesy Patrimonio Nacional

Luisa Roldan's 1692 sculpture “Saint Michael the Archangel Defeating the Devil (El Arcángel San Miguel venciendo al demonio)" will be on display for the first time at the Royal Collections Gallery in Madrid, Spain. 

One such work is a 1692 wooden sculpture by Luisa Roldan, the first woman appointed as a Spanish court sculptor. On Roldan, Luisa Ruiz, director of the museum said to CNN, “The fundamental thing about Roldan was her quality, which allowed her to escape anonymity and become head of the workshop, ranked higher than her husband. It’s likely that there were many other women in family (artist) workshops. But who remained anonymous.” 

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High altar of the Basilica of the Monestary San Lorenzo de El Escorial, located just outside of Madrid.

While all these new and never before seen works will be united together in this mecca of Spanish art, there are groups that raise concerns about the moving of objects from smaller cities to the capital. For example, several pieces in the new museum were taken from the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, located an hour outside of Madrid. The monastery is a hopping tourist attraction but it depended on these pieces to attract visitors. Without them, their future is unclear.

Perhaps the new Royal Collections Museum will inspire tourists in Madrid to visit these smaller destinations, or maybe the Museum can work with these institutions to hold joint exhibitions or loans. We will just have to wait to see how the opening goes, and what happens next for these incredible works. 

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