A major new historical museum was inaugurated in the heart of Madrid’s Old Town: the Royal Collections Gallery of Spain.
On June 28, 2023, in a magnificent setting designed by Emilio Tuñón Álvarez and Luis Moreno Mansilla, the Royal Collections Gallery displays not only the pieces collected by the kings and queens of Spain, but also the archaeological remains of the Muslim wall and ancient medieval houses discovered during the building’s construction.
Divided into two distinct sections, the museum offers a journey through the Habsburg dynasty, from the Catholic kings to Charles II, and another illustrating the changes in taste initiated by the Bourbon dynasty, from Philip V to the present day.
Thanks to videos reconstructing both the history of these rulers and their use of art and furniture as tools of power, it allows visitors to immerse themselves in the history of Spain, and in particular of Madrid and its royal palace, from the first Arab fortress to today’s castle.
In the Royal Collections Gallery it is possible to rediscover the contributions of each king and queen to the development of Spanish culture, with superb examples of tapestries, clocks, manuscripts, crowns, paintings, carriages and armour, as well as their major renovation projects for palaces throughout the region. Thus, we learn that Charles III could stay in a different place each season: spring at Aranjuez, summer at San Ildefonso near Segovia, autumn at El Escorial and winter at the Palacio Real in Madrid.
The clear layout of the works also makes it possible to understand the evolution of styles in each period, depending on the political, military, geographical and religious context, and of course on the personal attractions of the sovereigns for the artists of their time. Thus, for example, Philip II of Habsburg made no secret of his preference for Flemish Renaissance artists such as Jerome Bosch and Joachim Patinir, while Ferdinand VI continued to commission classicist French artists such as Charles André van Loo, who was commissioned to paint royal portraits, as shown below.
The use of cultural art as a propaganda instrument for sovereigns is also apparent. As the Spanish crown has always been strongly linked to the Catholic Church, religious subjects are very prominent, and represented according to precise criteria adopted by the artists.In order to combat the Protestant Reformation that arrived from Northern Europe in the 16th century, creators were selected and appreciated according to the quality and clarity of the pious message presented in their works.
But this instrumentalization also concerned the military victories of kings. In 1548, for example, Charles V commissioned Willem de Pannemaker to create a series of 12 tapestries recounting his campaign in North Africa; these pieces were put on public display at the time of his son’s marriage to Mary of Tudor, marking their vocation to tell the world of his exploits, and to support his power within the Empire.
The evolution of society also led to the acquisition of certain objects for the royal collections. Whereas his father had encouraged the flourishing of national manufactures, such as tapestries, in order to establish Spanish skills, Charles III was firmly rooted in the concerns of the Age of Enlightenment, and sent expeditions to Italy and the four corners of the world to investigate scientific and archaeological mysteries and exhibit them in Spain. The books on botanical, animal and technical discoveries in the exhibition testify to this, as do the paintings illustrating the eruption of Vesuvius by Antonio Joli, among others.
At the end of the tour, the museum also offers visitors the chance to plunge into the Cube, a space dedicated to the interior and exterior landscapes of Spain’s royal sites, such as the Escorial monastery, the Aranjuez palace, La Granja de San Ildefonso and the Yuste monastery, Charles V’s last home.
The Royal Collections Gallery is an essential complement to the city’s guided tours, enabling visitors to understand the collector’s spirit of the monarchs who have passed through Madrid.
Do not miss it when visiting Madrid, neither miss our free tour Madrid to discover the history of the city from the inside.