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10 Famous Paintings in the Prado Museum

Posted by Susan Benford

The institution we now call the Prado Museum opened in 1819 and was called the Royal Museum of Paintings.  Because it was assembled from the royal collection, the Museo del Prado was never designed to be an encyclopaedic museum.  Rather than showcasing objects from all eras of art history, the Prado Museum reflects the tastes of Spanish royalty, and their keen eye for finding artwork by famous painters.


Juan Sanchez Cotan. Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, 1602.  Oil on canvas, approximately 27" by 35".  Prado, Madrid.

And what taste they had.

While leading Spanish painters - including El Greco, Velazquez and Goya - are well represented, the Prado Museum also has numerous art paintings by other European painters.

Ten Prado paintings not to miss include:

1. Juan Sanchez Cotan.  Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit.

Believed to be the first surviving Spanish still life, or bodegon, Still Life with Game Vegetables and Fruit is one of six known Juan Sanchez Cotan paintings.

Not bad for a painter deemed the father of Spanish still life painting.  For the following century, the style of Juan Sanchez Cotan - a strong light source illuminating objects set against a nearly pitch black background -  would heavily influence Spanish painters, who in turn influenced other Europeans. 

Although Sanchez Cotan enjoyed some success as a painter - records show that he lent money to his friend, El Greco - he abandoned painting in 1602 to become a Carthusian monk. What a loss for art history.

Read more about Juan Sanchez Cotan, one of the most remarkable Spanish painters. 

2. Rogier van der Weyden.  The Escorial Deposition (or Descent from the Cross)

Originally a triptych, Descent from the Cross survived, tradition says, a horrific shipwreck on its way from Rogier-van-der-Weyden-Descent-from-CrossBelgium to Spain. Lucky for us.

It's hard to imagine a more compelling and gripping portrayal of grief not only in religious art but in any art. 

Rogier van der Weyden. Excorial Deposition (Descent from the Cross). Tempera and oil on wood, ca. 1435-1440. 7'3" by 8'7". Prado, Madrid.

Rogier van der Weyden has created a living theater with minutely executed details in clothing and in the tear-stained faces.  

The composition is exquisite - the curve of the body of the fainted Virgin is echoed by the body of Jesus.  The mourners are solidly volumetric and three dimensional, and seem to tilt into the viewer's space, as if in an invitation to share this grief.

3. Hieronymous Bosch.  Garden of Earthly Delights.

Over five centuries after Bosch created Garden of Earthly Delights, art historians remain perplexed at how he developed a style so different from the prominent Netherlandish painters of his time, Jan van Eyck (ca. 1370/90-1441) and Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400-1464).  Regardless, Garden of Earthly Delights is on any short list of the world's most famous paintings.


Forty Hieronymous Bosch paintings are known to exist; none is dated, and only seven, including Garden of Earthly Delights, are signed.

Although Hieronymous Bosch was a devout Catholic and chose the triptych format often used in altarpieces, Garden of Earthly Delights features imagery that would not have been accepted in a church. By a long shot.

Explore Garden of Earthly Delights and its enigmatic images. 

Hieronymous Bosch. Garden of Earthly Delights, ca. 1500-1505. Oil and grisaille on wooden panel. Center panel is 7'2 1/2" x 6'4 3/4". Each wing is 7'2 1/2" x 3'2".  Prado, Madrid.

4. Albrecht Durer.  Self Portrait 1498.

One of many Albrecht Durer self portraits, this 1498 version portrays him as a nobleman, not a painter, and Albrecht-Durer-self-portrait-1498in a pose typically reserved for those in high society.  Note the grey kidskin gloves, a luxury generally reserved for the wealthiest classes. 

Albrecht Durer.  Self Portrait, 1498.  Oil on panel, 20" by 16". Prado, Madrid.

The Renaissance transformed the status of painters from lowly craftsmen to a standing as intellectuals and courtiers.  By his pronounced signature below the window, Durer leaves no doubt that he embraced this elevated stature.

Read about more Albrecht Durer paintings.

5. El Greco.  Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest

According to the Prado museum, this is the best known of all El Greco paintings (I might argue for View of Toledo instead).  

El_Greco_paintings-nobleman-hand-chestThe nobleman, tentatively identified as Juan da Silva, notary major of Toledo, is identified as a gentleman by his lace collar and cuffs, pendant, and sword.  Light is focused on the sitters's face and hands, which are accentuated and framed by the brilliant ruff and cuffs.  

El Greco.  Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest, ca. 1580.  Oil on canvas, 32" by 26".  Prado, Madrid.

The focus on his illuminated hand and outstretched fingers has been variously interpreted as repentance, a vow, some rhetorical gesture, or simply as a compelling composition.  

I'm more taken with the naturalness of that hand and the sitter's piercing, confident gaze.

Explore other El Greco paintings.

6. Diego Velazquez.  Las Meninas (The Family of Charles IV).

One of the most famous painters in art history, according to any art historian, anytime. With fifty of the known 140 Diego Velazquez paintings, the Prado has the world's most extensive collection. 

Of all the famous paintings in the Prado, Las Meninas takes top honors in an exceptional collection. 

Thankfully, it is not beset by Mona-Lisa-like swarms. 

While Velazquez's skills as a painter are widely known (explore more Velazquez paintings here), his brilliant curatorial eye isn't.  Many of the Prado's Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian paintings were purchased at the suggestion of Velazquez (and with the deep pockets of Spanish king King Phillip IV).

See the homage paid by Pablo Picasso to Velazquez in his series of 58 Las Meninas paintings.

Diego Velazquez.  Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), 1656.  Oil on canvas, 10'5" by 9'.  Prado, Madrid.

7. Diego Velazquez.  Surrender at Breda (The Lances)

In 1625, Spanish troops commanded by Ambrosio Spinola defeated Dutch troops in the port city of Breda.  In Surrender at Breda, Justin of Nassua, its governor, is stopped from bending his knee in a demonstration of Spinola's benevolence and generosity.

Behind them to the right and left are Dutch and Spanish soliders, the latter in front of an array of upright, intact lances.  This not-so-subtle reference to power spawned its popular nickname, The Lances.


Diego Velazquez.  The Surrender of Breda, 1634-35.  Oil on canvas, approximately 10' by 12'.  Prado, Madrid.

In the bottom right corner is a white sheet of paper, a device often used by painters as a prominent place to sign the work.  In Surrender at Breda, Velazquez opts to leave it blank - as if he alone is capable of such a masterpiece.

8. Titian.  Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg

The greatest portraitist of 16th century Europe, Titian was a reference point for generations of European painters.

In Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Charles V, Titian portrait commemorates the victory at Muhlberg of imperial (Catholic) forces against Protestant ones.  

Although this equestrian portrait initially seems straightforward, it instead houses a dual symbolism (and a good deal of creative license) : the victor Charles is portrayed as both a Christian knight and as heir to the imperial Roman tradition.

Titian-Charles_V-MuhlbergAround his neck, Charles wears the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of 24 knights who pledged to join Charles in preserving Catholicism.  

When Titian made this painting, Charles, at age 57, had abdicated and was residing on his Spanish estate. 

Titian.  Equestrain Portrait of Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548.    Oil on canvas, 10' 11" by 9' 2".  Prado, Madrid.

He was riddled with gout, a result of poor habits like drinking ice-cold beer before breakfast, and, according to contemporaries, of his inordinate fondness for eel pie, olives, spicy Spanish sausages and oysters. 

This Titian portrait is pure fiction.

Explore more Titian paintings

9. Francisco Goya. The Third of May, 1808

On May 2, 1808, citizens of Madrid revolted against the occupying forces of Napoleon. The next day, his troops exacted revenge by killing hundreds of rebels and innocent bystanders.

While the shooters are faceless and indistinguishable from one another, the victims in The Third of May are depicted in fine detail. The white-shirted man is terrified, and holds his arms upward, recalling Christ's crucifixion; the victim in the left foreground, prone in pooled blood, similarly echoes this stance.


Francisco Goya. The Third of May, 1808. Oil on canvas, 1814. 8'9" by 11'4". Prado Museum, Madrid.

Read more about The Third of May, 1808.  See more Goya paintings, including his haunting series of 14 works called "The Black Paintings", the Duchess of Alba, and the poignant Self Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. 

10. Jose (Jusepe) de Ribera.  Bearded Woman.

Lesser known among Spanish painters, Jusepe de Ribera spent the bulk of his career in Italy.  His riveting triple portrait, Bearded Women, reflects the 17th century fashion of portraying people with physical or psychological abnormalities.

Ribera-Bearded_WomanBearded Woman was commissioned in 1631 by the Duke of Alcala, the Viceroy of Naples and a major patron of de Ribera.  Felix and Magdalena Ventura were a married couple with three sons when, at the age of 37, she developed a full beard. 

Jusepe de Ribera.  Bearded Woman, 1631.  Oil on canvas, 91" by 72".

In spite of her startling appearance, de Ribera has created a respectful portrait of the couple: Magdalena's forlorn face and her husband's fretting demeanor elicit sympathy, not derision. 

The inscription on the stone to the right of Bearded Woman documents her hypertrichosis and earlier life.  

Note the spool of thread and head of staff on top of the slab: these symbols of femininity and domesticity solidify Jusepe de Ribera's respectful portrayal.


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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums - ebooks

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

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Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Other

Art History Reading List: 50+ great reads in fiction and non-fiction

Art History Videos on YouTube

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Most Controversial Paintings

Google Art ProjectArt Museums Up Close

Survey of Female Artists

Survey of Renaissance Paintings.

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors