It will have taken years of waiting (more than desirable: eight years late), four presidents of Government and five presidents of National Heritage to see the completion of the Gallery of the Royal Collections. Its official inauguration by the kings Felipe and Letizia is initially scheduled for June 28, although the announcement of the electoral advance by the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, could vary the date.
The immense container of 40,000 square meters of granite, concrete, glass and oak designed by the architects Emilio Tuñón and Luis Moreno Mansilla next to the Royal Palace of Madrid, between the Campo del Moro, the Cathedral of La Almudena and the Plaza de la Armería, will house the treasures of more than 500 years of art collected by the kings of Spain and the history they starred in. The Gallery houses around 700 pieces from the Royal National Heritage Sites (Royal Palace, El Escorial, Aranjuez, La Granja, Descalzas Reales and a long etcetera). From the Catholic Monarchs to Alfonso XIII, it is a timeline of the absolute Spanish monarchs in their facet as investors and patrons of the best artists and artisans. Painting, sculpture, carriages, tapestries, jewelry, weapons, armor, decorative arts... Never has this legacy of the past been exposed like this, gathered as a whole and in a building of the future.
EL PAÍS enters in advance the largest cultural facility inaugurated in Spain in decades, in what is a guided tour by some of the people who have worked on the long-awaited project. From the architecture of the building to the technical and mechanical guts that make the monster work, we begin the keys to enjoy the new museum, inside and out, placing it on the map of Madrid by the hand of the illustrator Del Hambre. The complete map (which can be downloaded by clicking on the following link) also contains a map of the museum with the location of some of the most emblematic works.
Download the full map
A multi-awarded building of white concrete and granite on the edge of the Cornice of Madrid
Designed by Emilio Tuñón and Luis M. Mansilla (died in 2012), this building built between 2006 and 2015 on the hillside on which the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral sit has won a dozen architecture awards, including the prestigious FAD and American Architecture Prize. "It masterfully solves a timeless and sober architecture, of precise and exciting invoice," said the jury of the first of them.
Two of the most important people responsible for the construction of this impressive container offer a small basic guide to explore it: Luis Pérez de Prada —today director of National Heritage Properties, but who lived throughout the construction as head of the architecture department— and Emilio Tuñón, one of the fathers of the project.
Everything is gigantic and yet everything is aerial in this building that will undoubtedly build one of the attractions to visit, with its infinite shutters and endless ramps. Peréz de Prada begins by highlighting the recognition that the work has obtained "inside and outside the profession". PHOTO: JOSÉ MANUEL BALLESTER
Pérez de Prada begins by highlighting the contrast between the main access from the Plaza de Armería -"From where the building appears as a discreet piece"- and the spaces where its true dimension is appreciated: the West façade (in the image) that falls on the hillside on which the palace and the cathedral sit and the South, narrower, which overlooks the Cuesta de la Vega. PHOTO: SURAVIA
"If we place ourselves in the Cuesta de la Vega, the Paseo Extremadura, the Casa de Campo or closer, in the Campo del Moro [from where this image is taken], we will see the magnitude of the building, the constructive effort that has involved implanting it in the Cornice of Madrid, making an excavation of 35 meters to get the site where it is implanted. There you see the volume of the 145 meters in length it has." PHOTO: JOSÉ MANUEL BALLESTER
Inside, the first space would be the visitor's welcome, the lobby: "It's where you really start to see its exceptionality as a public building destined to house the collections. It is interesting because of the contrast of a very low space, which is compressed at the entrance, with the large lobby. These different heights are what give the feeling of entering, suddenly, in a special place." PHOTO: JOSÉ MANUEL BALLESTER
"The building also has the virtue that it uses a very small range of materials, despite the temptation to use many constructive solutions," says Pérez de Prada before highlighting the first of them. It is the gray granite of Quintana that is both in the floors and in the pillars of the façade, whose detail can be seen in this image next to the aluminum castings. PHOTO: JOSÉ MANUEL BALLESTER
Granite has also been used for the handrail of the ramps. On the walls, you can see the white concrete that, together with the oak, completes the main range of materials. "The white concrete, which is what finishes many parts of the interior, with formwork with exposed clapboard, which gives that texture and warmth. And then, the oak foundations that appear, not only in the shutters, but also in some walls, give more warmth as opposed to the concrete." PHOTO: JOSÉ MANUEL BALLESTER
Emilio Tuñón (Madrid, 64 years old), National Architecture Award 2022, talks to us from his office in the Madrid neighborhood of Tetuán about the starting point and objectives of the project, and also tells us what are his favorite spaces of the building he signs with Luis M. Mansilla:
Interview with Emilio Tuñón
Video: LUIS MANUEL RIVAS
Five centuries of art and history and the invisible monster that takes care of everything
In a building where enormity overwhelms, exhibition spaces are no exception. Divided into two permanent galleries, one dedicated to the dynasty of the Austrias (the -1 floor) and another to that of the Bourbons (the -2), and another for temporary exhibitions (the -3) that will be released with a sample of floats, these spaces measure 106 meters long by 16 wide, for a height of six meters in the case of the last two, and eight meters in the Austrias. Those responsible for the Gallery had to make the decision to give them more to fit the bulkier tapestries. Everything in this gallery responds to a superlative scale, both in the part that the public will see and in the part that will remain invisible: an intricate network of tramoyas that makes absolutely everything – the intensity of each light, the humidity of each exhibition hall, the space that gives shelter to each tapestry waiting to be exhibited – as it should be.
What you see: the collections
The gallery rooms will house some 700 works of art, from painting, sculpture and tapestries by great masters (Velázquez, Goya, Caravaggio, Patinir, El Greco, Juan de Flandes...) to decorative arts, carriages, jewelry, weapons and armor. At least part of the pieces of the permanent exhibition will rotate regularly to show most of the funds and for conservation reasons; There are some that should not be exposed for a long time for technical reasons (lighting, temperature ...). This is a tour of 10 of the most iconic works of the Gallery of the Royal Collections among the first that can be seen after its opening, commented by its director, Leticia Ruiz. The plan drawn by Del Hambre that we offered at the beginning places them inside the rooms.
'The archangel Saint Michael defeating the devil'.
Luisa Roldán, La Roldana. 1692. Provenance: Monastery of El Escorial.
This carved and polychrome wood sculpture is the work of an advance to its time. Few, if any, women were, back in 1692, renowned artists, let alone chamber artists at court. Luisa Ignacia Roldán Villavicencio, La Roldana, was, when she became chamber sculptor of King Carlos II. 'Rara avis'?... Not so much because, as Leticia Ruiz explains, she belonged to "that lineage of women trained in the father's workshop, as had also been the case of Lavinia Fontana, something not so uncommon, although it was to create works for the king". The sculpture has been subjected to a thorough process of documentation, cleaning, repainting and recovery of original polychromy by the restorer Ana Loureiro.
'The Adoration of the Name of Jesus'
El Greco. 1577-1579. Provenance: Monastery of El Escorial.
"It is considered, although it is not proven, that it is the letter of introduction of the painter to try to link himself to the great artistic work of El Escorial. El Greco arrived in Toledo at the beginning of 1577, where he had a good relationship with Luis de Castilla, son of the dean of the cathedral, who gave him the first commissions. But he had his eye on the possibility of working in El Escorial, of course." The work belongs, therefore, to the first stage of El Greco in Spain, with an iconography still medievalizing and a colorful Venetian. This great painting will remain in the Gallery of the Royal Collections "a prudential time", according to Leticia Ruiz, before returning to its original location in El Escorial. The National Gallery in London exhibits a reduced version of the work, painted on panel.
Architectural 'Dessert' of the Glories of Spain
Velázquez, Giardoni, Gutiérrez, Marzal el Mayor and Hartzenbusch. 1802-1805. Provenance: Casa del Labrador, Real Sitio de Aranjuez.
This monumental table ornament was executed for the large hall of the Real Casa del Labrador in the Jardín del Príncipe del Real Sitio de Aranjuez, the country house of Carlos IV. In its bas-reliefs episodes of the history of Spain and its kings are narrated. The spectacular piece was used at the lunch of the royal wedding of Kings Felipe VI and Letizia. "When he visited the Gallery and saw it in full assembly, the King remembered it perfectly," says Ruiz.
Polyptych of Isabella the Catholic
John of Flanders. 1496-1504. Provenance: Royal Palace of Madrid.
Set of 15 small format panels with scenes from the life of Christ, intended for devotional use of Isabel I of Castile, in Flemish style, but with Spanish touches. In one of them appear the Catholic Monarchs themselves, and in another, her husband, Fernando. "We can say that they are here thanks to the decision made by Philip II, and then Charles II, to arrange that a certain part of the Royal Collections would remain not as private property, but as assets inherent to the Crown, which meant that at the death of the monarch they could not be sold." The polyptych was originally composed of 47 panels, which were sold in public almoneda, these 15 being reinstated in 1530, when Charles V inherited them from his aunt Margaret of Austria. It is the first time that they are exhibited together. Until now they were in warehouses of the Royal Palace.
Royal Crown Car
Julian Gonzalez. 1829-1833. Provenance: Royal Palace.
Float for solemn ceremonies at the end of the reign of Fernando VII. This grand gala saloon is characterized by its richness of materials and its technical complexity: its double suspension system or the interior upholstery gave this car of kings great comfort. The gilded bronze decoration responds to an iconographic program of exaltation of royal power, with mythological themes such as Apollo and the muses, divinities mounted on chariots or representations alluding to the virtues of the monarch.
Diego de Velázquez. 1634-1638. Óleo sobre lienzo. Procedencia: Palacio Real de Madrid. Ámbito: Felipe IV.
“A la muerte de Velázquez se le inventaría este cuadro en su taller; lo tenía allí, perfectamente preparado y listo para colocar sobre el caballo el jinete que se le hubiera pedido. Es igual de dimensiones y formato que el alazán que está en el Prado sosteniendo al Conde-Duque de Olivares, pero no sabemos si era para otro valido, para el rey, para la reina...”, explica Leticia Ruiz. Es el único retrato ecuestre incompleto de Velázquez. “Es una maravilla, y el hecho de que le falte el jinete le confiere un valor enigmático. Posee toda la flema de Velázquez, como le gustaba decir a Felipe IV”. La obra estuvo en la gran retrospectiva de Velázquez en el Grand Palais de París en 2015. Hasta ahora, permanecía en los almacenes de lo que hubiera sido el Museo de Pintura del Palacio Real de Madrid.
‘Carlos IV de espaldas’
Juan Bauzil. 1818. Procedencia: Casita del Príncipe, El Escorial.
Esta insólita interpretación de Carlos IV fue dedicada a Fernando VII un mes antes de la muerte del primero en Nápoles, el 19 de enero de 1819. Carlos IV luce peluca, que ya estaba en desuso, y una sencilla casaca sin bordados ni condecoraciones. Al verlo, la reina María Luisa de Parma puso a Bauzil el apodo del 'Pintor Loco'. El Prado posee una serie de miniaturas de este pintor, que fue miniaturista de cámara de la corte. Previsiblemente, los responsables de Patrimonio Nacional utilizarán esta imagen en la contraportada de las guías para el visitante de la Galería de las Colecciones Reales.
Francisco de Herrera el Mozo y Juan de Churriguera. 1674-1678. Procedencia: Palacio Real de Madrid.
Explica Ruiz: “Estas columnas van a iniciar en España el estilo churrigueresco. Fueron construidas para conformar el retablo mayor de la iglesia del Hospital de los Aragoneses o de Montserrat, en Madrid. Hacia 1909 se derruye lo que quedaba del hospital y las piezas del retablo mayor se dispersan. En 1985 estas columnas acaban depositadas, después de dar muchos tumbos y de ser repintadas, en la llamada Puerta de Incógnita, que es por la que entran y salen actualmente gran parte de los trabajadores de Patrimonio Nacional en el Palacio Real. Se les hicieron unas catas y se vio que eran de oro doblado sobre un fondo marmolizado de azul lapislázuli”. Esta fue la primera obra que se trajo a la Galería de las Colecciones Reales, por decisión personal de su directora, y fueron restauradas aquí mismo.
Corona de la Virgen de Atocha de Isabel II
Narciso Práxedes Soria. 1852. Procedencia: Palacio Real de Madrid.
Una corona como esta lucía la reina Isabel II el 2 de febrero de 1852 al dirigirse a la Real Capilla de Atocha para presentar a la Virgen a su recién nacida primogénita, la infanta Isabel de Borbón. Al salir del Palacio Real, la reina fue atacada por el cura Martín Merino, un activista liberal y antimonárquico que le asestó dos puñaladas en el costado. Las cuchilladas fueron amortiguadas por los ropajes y el corsé de la reina. El atacante fue ajusticiado en garrote vil y la reina encargó al joyero Narciso Práxedes esta adaptación de dos coronas para la cabeza de la Virgen de Atocha y para la del Niño Jesús, a modo de agradecimiento por haberse salvado. La vitrina que guarda la corona es la que cuenta con más dispositivos de seguridad de toda la Galería de las Colecciones Reales.
'Meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek' (from the series Apotheosis of the Eucharist)
Peter Paul Rubens. 1625-1632. Provenance: Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales de Madrid.
"It represents the Eucharist, which was one of the great devotions of the Austrias," explains Leticia Ruiz. Rubens created it expressly for the then governor of Spain, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, eldest daughter of Philip II, who, after the debacle with the Duke of Alba, asked her to go as governor to pacify the Netherlands. Some of the faces of this gigantic tapestry, whose complete series comes from the convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid, do not appear woven, but painted, "and that is the greatness of good tapestries". The sketches of this, executed on panel by Rubens, are in the Prado Museum. National Heritage must pick it up at Easter to reintegrate it into the Barefoot.
After almost 25 years of waiting since the Government of José María Aznar approved the creation of this immense gallery of art and history, its director, Leticia Ruiz, defends the uniqueness of a cultural space in which the continent gives meaning to the content and vice versa. He explains it in the following video:
Interview with Leticia Ruiz
Video: LUIS MANUEL RIVAS
What you don't see: four-fifths of hidden gears
If the building of the Gallery of the Royal Collections has 40,000 square meters, the public space – rooms, auditorium, lobby, auditorium, shop, cafeteria ... – occupies only about 8,000, that is, barely a fifth. The rest are the headquarters of the 150 workers who will ensure that everything is in place and where all kinds of machines work tirelessly to ensure the safety and conservation of the treasures of National Heritage. The following is a visual tour of those invisible tramoyas explained by some of the professionals who handle them.
The building is divided into three large sections or bays. The public part, attached to the hillside; the service area, next to the Almudena. The intermediate part is occupied by a large central courtyard of 50 meters, from floor to ceiling, which channels the facilities that connect both ends (in the image). PHOTO: ASIER RUA
From a management program called BMS absolutely everything is controlled, from the ignition of any machine to the variation of the intensity of the light independent of each of the exhibited works. "The lighting is very careful. Everything is led light, which is the least harmful. Because a ceramic is not affected by light, but a painting is, a textile, I do not tell you, and a book ...", explains Pilar Benito, head of the National Heritage Conservation Area. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
The humidity and temperature of each space are also controlled to guarantee the conservation of the works. "The optimal conditions are between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius of temperature and 45% and 50% of relative humidity," adds Benito. For this, the building has a complex ventilation system, with spaces open to the street – the collection patios like the one in this image – that feed air into adjoining treatment units where excess moisture is purified and eliminated. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
Finally, heat batteries and steam lances provide the exact temperature and humidity required by the collection. "We have a very effective air conditioning system," says Luis Baena, technical architect of Patrimonio, who has been working on the Gallery project for 13 years. Baena points out that another fundamental part of the building's respiratory system are the cooling towers that appear on the highest floor, the roof (in the image). PHOTO: ASIER RUA
It was not easy to lift and then start such a monster. "All the machines had to be dismantled, carried up through the central courtyard and assembled on site," explains Baena. Another example of the complexity they had to face is in the keypad of the service elevator; As in the public bay there are seven floors between six and eight meters high but on the opposite side there are many more (14), they decided to name these in a particular way to distinguish them: by the height in meters with respect to sea level: from 602 to 652. Not all of them are accessed from any point, so in the elevator in the image there are only buttons to reach nine of those floors. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
In the warehouse area, everything is overwhelmingly large: the cabinets that house the works, the loading dock, the sliding metal door that connects the entire space... An example is this glass access door from the Campo del Moro that a few days ago a worker was busy cleaning. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
"That is why it was thought in principle, due to the circumstances and the ease of access and maneuver, to [store here] the large formats: carpets, tapestries and paintings that are of a supernatural scale, very large, fragments of altarpieces ...", explains José Luis Valverde, the head of Registry. The forklift has capacity for 10,500 kilos and 140 people. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
Also huge is the multipurpose room, which has been used in recent times as a workshop to retouch and condition the works that arrived on the way to the exhibitions. PHOTO: ASIER RUA
In any case, it is necessary to frame the services of this building within the entire structure of National Heritage and, above all, the adjoining Royal Palace, with which it forms a set within which workers continuously transfer and with which they share basic facilities such as artistic and maintenance workshops: electricity, plumbing, carpentry ... PHOTO: ASIER RUA
A new look at the southwest of Madrid
If from the outside the image of the museum is part of that new postcard already complete of the Cornice of Madrid of which Emilio Tuñón spoke, from inside the space also offers the viewer new and spectacular postcards of the southwest of Madrid.
One of the windows on the south façade of the building. Jose Manuel Ballester
At the opposite end to the main entrance, the visitor will find on each of the floors a huge window that overlooks the Cuesta de la Vega. In the background, in the image that precedes these lines, you can see the building of the Conciliar Seminary of Madrid, next to the Vistillas.
Views of the Southwest of Madrid from the gallery deck.
But perhaps the most spectacular image is the view offered by the building of the entire southwest of Madrid, on the other side of the line of the Manzanares and Madrid Río, with the Casa de Campo, the Paseo de Extremadura, Carabanchel (there you can see the Gómez Ulla Hospital) ... The above image is taken from the rooftop, which unfortunately is off-limits to the public.
Mirador de la Galería.Javier Lopez (EFE)
However, although the view may not go that far, a very similar postcard can be enjoyed by everyone from the windows of the lobby and, above all, from the viewpoint at the entrance. And the output (in the image above).
If you want to know more about the Royal Collections Galleries:
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