The spectacular Prado in Madrid is no mere museum but a travel experience. In itself, it's worth a journey to Spain.
- Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid): Madrid's acquisition of this treasure trove of art in the 1980s was one of the greatest coups in European art history. Amassed by a central European collector beginning around 1920, and formerly displayed in Lugano, Switzerland, its 700 canvases, with works by artists ranging from El Greco to Picasso, are arranged in chronological order. The collection rivals the legendary holdings of the queen of England herself.
- Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (Cuenca): The angular medieval architecture of the town that contains the museum is an appropriate foil for a startling collection of modern masters. A group of some of Spain's most celebrated artists settled in Cuenca in the 1950s and 1960s, and their works are displayed here. They include Fernando Zobel, Antoni Tàpies, Eduardo Chillida, Luis Feito, and Antonio Saura.
- Museo-Hospital de Santa Cruz (Toledo): Built by the archbishop of Toledo as a hospital for the poor, this is the most important museum in New Castile. It's known for its Plateresque architecture -- notably its intricate facade -- and for the wealth of art inside. Among its noteworthy collection of 16th- and 17th-century paintings are 18 works by El Greco, including his Altarpiece of the Assumption, completed in 1613 during his final period. The gallery also contains a collection of primitive paintings.
- Museo Nacional de Escultura (Valladolid): The greatest collection of gilded polychrome sculpture -- an art form that reached its pinnacle in Valladolid -- is on display here in the 15th-century San Gregorio College. Figures are first carved in wood and then painted with great artistry to achieve a lifelike appearance. The most remarkable exhibit is an altarpiece designed by Alonso Berruguete for the Church of San Benito. Be sure to see his Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.
- Museo Nacional de Arte Romano (Mérida): A museum that makes most archaeologists salivate, this modern building contains hundreds of pieces of ancient Roman sculpture discovered in and around Mérida. The Roman treasures included theaters, amphitheaters, racecourses, and hundreds of tombs full of art objects, many of which are on display here. In 1986, the well-known and award-winning architect Rafael Moneo designed this ambitious and innovative brick building. Designing the building on a grand scale, he freely borrowed from Roman motifs and daringly incorporated an ancient Roman road discovered when the foundations were dug.
- Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla (Seville): The Prado doesn't own all the great Spanish art in the country. Located in the early-17th-century convent of La Merced, this museum is famous for its works by such Spanish masters as Valdés Leal, Zurbarán, and Murillo. Spain's Golden Age is best exemplified by Murillo's monumental Immaculate Conception and Zurbarán's Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas.
- Museu Picasso (Barcelona): Picasso, who spent many of his formative years in Barcelona, donated some 2,500 of his paintings, drawings, and engravings to launch this museum in 1970. It's second only to the Picasso Museum in Paris. Seek out his notebooks, which contain many sketches of Barcelona scenes. The pieces are arranged in roughly chronological order, so you'll discover that he completely mastered traditional representational painting before tiring of it and beginning to experiment. Watch for numerous portraits of his family, as well as examples from both his Blue Period and his Rose Period. His obsessive Las Meninas series -- painted in 1959 -- offers exaggerated variations on the theme of the famous Velázquez work hanging in Madrid's Prado Museum.
- Teatre Museu Dalí (Figueres): The eccentric Salvador Dalí is showcased here as nowhere else. The surrealist artist -- known for everything from lobster telephones to Rotting Mannequin in a Taxicab -- conceived of his art partly as theater. But be warned: As Dalí's final joke, he wanted the museum to spew forth "false information."
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