Seville's fine arts museum is a lovely place. It's peaceful, inspiring, and a ridiculously good value for the money. The art is housed in an old convent, surrounding three shady Sevillian patios—one of them a mini forest of palm trees and foliage. There's plenty to keep your interest, so allow at least a couple of hours, even a whole morning or afternoon. There's often hardly anyone around, so you can take your time and really enjoy the gems on offer here.

The works are arranged chronologically. Standout works on the ground floor include still-colorful medieval paintings of the saints, done on ancient wooden boards, in Room I; a particularly strong Renaissance collection, including "Portrait of the Artist's Son Jorge Manuel Theotokopolous" by El Greco; and a gruesome sculpture, "Head of John the Baptist" by Gaspar Núñez Delgado, complete with life-like severed windpipe and spine. Works by famous painters from the Seville School, including the painter Velázquez and sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés, are also on display here. Star of the show, though, is Room V. The former chapel of the convent, with its painted, domed ceiling, is the perfect showcase for a breathtaking collection of vast, dreamily romantic religious canvases by the city's most famous painter, Juan Esteban Murillo.

advertisement

On the upper floor, Room VIII holds canvases by another of the great Sevillian School painters, Juan de Valdés Leal. His depictions are more graphic and far less sentimental than Murillo's, and I prefer them. More realistic still, perhaps a little disconcertingly so, are the colorful, almost life-sized canvases by Francisco de Zurbarán in Room X, which depict local monks and abbots in their monasteries. Later rooms include canvases from the 19th and 20th centuries, including interesting views of the city from years gone by. Watch for a wonderfully realistic painting of the Triana district across the river by Emilio Sánchez-Perrier, and depictions by Gonzalo Bilbao of the famous cigarreras, the girls who rolled cigars in the Royal Tobacco Factory and who were the inspiration for Bizet's famous opera "Carmen."