You probably know that the Prado Museum houses one of the world’s most remarkable collections of painters like Titian, Velázquez, Bosch, Rubens and Goya.
But with over 7,000 paintings—not to mention hordes of sculptures, drawings and decorative arts—it’s also host to hundreds of hidden gems that you could easily miss while trying to pack in the “greatest hits.” If you really want to sink your teeth into all the museum has to offer, here’s our guide to some of our favorite lesser-known paintings in the Prado.
1. Sofonisba Anguissola – Portrait of Philip II
This portrait of Spain’s “Most Catholic King” might not jump out at you at first. Upon closer consideration, it represents something truly remarkable: a portrait of a 16th-century king, painted by a female artist.
Anguissola was born in Italy, where her talents caught the attention first of Michelangelo and then of the Duke of Alba, Philip’s military commander. He brought her to Spain, where she would serve as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.
Neglected by art historians for centuries—this very painting was attributed to a male painter until 1990!—she’s increasingly viewed as one of the most influential painters of her generation.
Where to find it: Room 55
2. José de Ribera – Magdalena Ventura with her Husband and Son
José de Ribera was Spain’s most prominent follower of Caravaggio. Best known for his religious works, he painted this remarkable secular portrait during his long stay in southern Italy.
Magdalena Ventura became a local celebrity in Abruzzo when she grew a full beard after the birth of her three sons. Here Ribera shows her breastfeeding her child while her husband stands behind her. Instead of a curiosity to leer at, Ribera portrays her as confident and almost confrontational, staring down the viewer across the centuries with dignity and grace. It’s a masterpiece that even today challenges gender conventions.
Where to find it: Room 8
3. The Dauphin’s Treasure
When Philip V came to Madrid from Versailles to take up the Spanish throne, he brought with him his father’s outstanding collection of decorative vessels. Hidden away in the museum’s little-visited basement, few visitors make it down to see these beautiful and fanciful creations. The finest artisans across Europe made these decorative pieces from crystal, enamel, and precious stones and metals. It’s hard to pick out a favorite, but look out for the incredible dragon-boat on wheels. All in all, an insight into the decadent luxury of the Bourbon royal court.
Where to find it: Rooms 100-102
4. Giambattista Tiepolo – The Immaculate Conception
Many visitors to the Prado jump straight from Diego Velázquez to Francisco de Goya, skipping over the 18th century almost in its entirety. While it’s true that some of the Royal Collection from this period can suffer in comparison to the two great masters, much of it deserves a long-overdue reconsideration.
Tiepolo was originally commissioned to his Immaculate Conception by King Charles III for a church in Aranjuez around 1767. While the composition owes much to Spanish Baroque painters like Pacheco and Murillo, the end result is very different. The Virgin Mary is shown not as a delicate girl looking piously up to heaven, but as a strong woman looking down to earth and the task ahead of her. Mary becomes an active figure in her own destiny, trampling evil beneath her.
Where to find it: Room 19
5. Raimundo de Madrazo – Portrait of Josefa Manzanedo
Madrazo hails from a great family of Spanish painters—four generations of which are represented in the Prado’s collections! Over time, his works have fallen somewhat out of fashion. But really, there’s no one quite like him. Painting largely in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, his paintings are a feast for the senses.
For example, take this portrait of Josefa Manzanedo, a Spanish marquess and fellow expat in Paris. She stands facing us, the richness of her dress competing with some remarkable floral wallpaper for our attention. The effect is a kind of sensory overload that’s held together by the minimalism of the composition and the presence of its subject.
Where to find it: Room 62
For a complete experience of two of the most iconic establishments in Madrid, join us on our Prado Museum Tour & VIP Botin Lunch. You’ll get a tour of the Prado including insider insight into over 15 works of art that tell the museum’s—and the country’s—story. Follow it up with a suckling pig lunch at Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world, and you can cross two Madrid essentials off your bucket list in one morning.
Ewan loves to share his passion for Madrid’s food and culture as a tour guide and writer. A perpetual student, when not catching the latest exhibition or showing guests around the city, he can be found brushing up on anything from nineteenth-century Spanish politics to medieval architecture.