Museo del Prado

With   more   than   7,000   paintings,   the Prado is one of the most important repositories of art in the world, based on a royal collection  fattened  over  the  years  by  the wealth  of  the  Habsburgs  and  the  Bourbons. Don’t make the kids see everything; on your first visit, concentrate on the three great Spanish masters—Velázquez, Goya, and  El  Greco,  who  can  be  appreciated here as nowhere else.

One  picture  they  must  see:  Las  Meninas  by  Diego  Velázquez  (1599–1660). The figure of a small Spanish infanta in her splendid satin gown is the focal point, her self-possessed  gaze  as  quixotic  as  the Mona  Lisa’s.  Two  figures  in  the  painting look  directly  at  the  viewer:  the  princess and  that  dark-clothed  figure  behind  her painting the royal family, a self-portrait of Velázquez.  The  faces  of  the  queen  and king are merely reflected in a mirror on a back wall. Then there’s that departing figure on the stairs in the back—Velázquez’s virtuoso  technique  is  one  thing,  but  this painting is so dramatically composed, we could barely drag ourselves away.

We  love  the  work  of  his  older  contemporary El Greco (ca. 1541–1614), a Creteborn  artist  who  lived  much  of  his  life  in Toledo.  His  huge  canvases  look  astonishingly  modern,  with  their  impressionistic lights  and  shadows.  The  Prado  displays several of his rapturous saints, Madonnas, and Holy Families, even a ghostly John the Baptist.

It’s  also  fascinating  to  see  the  work  of Francisco  de  Goya  (1746–1828)—note the   contrast   between   his   portraits   of Charles  IV  and  his  family  (so  unflattering, you  wonder  why  they  continued  their patronage)  and  politically  charged  paintings,  such  as  the  Third  of  May  (1808), and sketches depicting the decay of 18th-century Spain. One pair of canvases, The Clothed  Maja  and  The  Naked  Maja, make a brilliant contrast—almost identical portraits, except that in one the woman is clothed and in the other she’s nude.

Teenagers also got into Hieronymus Bosch’s  The  Garden  of  Earthly  Delights, The Seven Deadly Sins, and his triptych The Hay   Wagon,   along   with   the   ghoulish The  Triumph  of  Death,  by  Pieter  Breughel the  Elder.  But  we  only  had  1  day,  and we  needed  to  scoot  over  to  the  Museo Nacional  Centro  de  Arte  Reina  Sofía, Santa  Isabel  52, the   Prado’s   modern-art   sequel,   where Pablo Picasso’s antiwar masterpiece Guernica  is  the  star,  alongside  works  by  Juan Gris, Joan Miro, and Salvador Dalí.