August 11, 2020

The inhabitants of the National Prado Museum – The Province


The day when his brush repainted a piece of the canvas of 'Dos de Mayo', which still drags wounds from the Civil War transfers, restorer Elisa Mora shuddered. In the recovered red pants of the romper was his brush stroke next to that of the great Goya. It is one of those unique emotions that must belong to the exclusive club of the 400 workers of the Prado, inhabitants of one of the most important art galleries in the world.

Surrounded by books in the Casón del Buen Retiro, it guards the memory of the museum María Luisa Cuenca in the Library, the Archive and the Documentation area. Under the marble floor of the corridors of the Villanueva building, Eva Cardedal try that the Prado does not faint during the 10 hours that remains open from Monday to Sunday. Bernardo Pajares supervises the requests of painters who aspire to copy some of the great works, while Yolanda Navarro and his team guarantee the safety of workers and visitors.

Images: José Luis Roca

In charge of conservators, restaurateurs, documentaries, bedeles, administrative and vigilantes are the more than 1,700 canvases of the permanent collection in the Villanueva and Jerónimos buildings, and the more than 27,000 works he keeps in his basements the museum that opened its doors to the public on November 19, 1819 with a sample of 311 paintings from the Royal Collection, all at that time, of Spanish painters.

Elisa Mora: surgeon of the cadres

The oxide of the varnishes is the main enemy of Elisa Mora, occupied for 37 years to return the lost splendor to the Prado paintings by the time. Among solvents, paints, brushes, scalpels and easels, the restorer who helped heal the war wounds of Goya's 'Dos de Mayo' dedicates an essential part of her working time to thoughtfully observing the works to find the evil that the ail And it does in a huge, bright and silent workshop through which darkened fabrics pass through layers of dirt, enamels and repainting.

Elisa Mora look and fix the sick picture, he walks away, approaches again and puts a hand to his chin while asking the canvas what he feels in search of the best diagnosis. "We are a kind of doctors who predict the evil of the work to offer a personalized treatment"he explains with a point of pride. In his apartment they have rejuvenated tables and canvases of great masters. They even resurrected two works of Titian of difficult salvation, because they were painted on slate and marble: the 'Ecce Homo' and 'La Dolorosa with open hands'.

Elisa Mora, Restorer of Painting of the National Museum of the Prado. (PHOTO: José Luis Roca)

"The paintings we have used to belong to royal collections, so in principle they were all quite well preserved by painters and restorers of the Court," he says in his workshop, overlooking the Cloister of the Jeronimos.

"We clean the varnishes that oxidize and dull the original paint"Mora continues to train her eyesight also to detect inappropriate touch-ups made in the paintings by restaurateurs from other times. In 'The wine of the feast of St. Martin' de Brueghel 'the Elder', Mora's expert hands devoted themselves for months to recover the original texture and color of this flamenco twill, which came completely blackened.

Bernardo Pajares: from copies to glory

Bernardo Pajares (Vilagarcía de Arousa, 1983) accompanies the copyists who come to the rooms del Prado while the possibility of hiding in some of them a genius or, why not, a future director of the art gallery. Thus, copying the classics, began their careers artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Pradilla or José Gisbert.

Bernardo Pajares, responsible for the Copy Office of the Prado Museum. (PHOTO: José Luis Roca)

"Picasso was inspired by Velázquez, but also in Murillo although later he refused, and in 'El Greco'," says Pajares. Among the documentation of the Prado have appeared old letters from copyists with complaints about not being able to imitate certain works. "In one of the letters, addressed to Francisco Pradilla, author of 'Juana la Loca' and already then director of the museum, a group of apprentices asked him when they could copy those canvases again. Among the painters who signed it was José Gisbert architect of 'The execution of Torrijos'"he reveals.

The copyists today, increasingly scarce, they work a maximum of eight weeks a year from Monday to Thursday in the rooms of the art gallery open to the public and at a safe distance from the original. There are still works banned from reproduction for security reasons as they are in the busiest rooms of the museum, such as 'Las Meninas', 'Las Majas' by Goya, 'The Descent' by Van der Weyden, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' by Bosco, 'Judith at the Holofernes Banquet' by Rembrant and 'Children at the Beach' by Sorolla .

The most requested paintings by the copyists are 'La fragua de Vulcano' and 'Los borrachos' by Velázquez, 'Las dolorosos' by Tiziano and 'Las Inmaculadas' by Murillo.

The most emotional imitations, Pajares believes, are those to which, beyond faithfully reflecting the original, something of their own is added, "the soul" of the copyist You can then sell your work as long as the transaction is done outside the Prado facilities. The place where he works is "a universe of magical stories", concludes Bernardo Pajares while admiring a copy of 'The Annunciation' by Fra Angelico made by a painter from Malaga.

Yolanda Navarro: war on selfies

After 16 years in the Prado, Yolanda Navarro (Madrid, 1974) no longer flinches when sirens that warn of dangers break the silence in the museum. "I'm used to it, and it's almost always false alarms," ​​says the General Security Officer, which coordinates with five other colleagues the work of the heads and guards of the rooms of the national gallery. His eyes observe the transfer of visitors, "most of them very educated," but many of them anxious to immortalize rooms and works with their mobile phones teachers despite the ban.

The false alarms referred to by Navarro warn of possible intrusions in the museum or fire. "What usually happens is that the sensors that detect strange movements move because of gusts of wind," he says. If any electrical circuit overheats the alert appears on its monitors, a warning of a probable fire. It's about avoiding the incident he described Mariano de Cavia in 1891 to denounce the precarious security measures that the Villanueva building had at that time.

Yolanda Navarro, General Manager of Security of the Prado Museum. (PHOTO: José Luis Roca)

"We are on call 24 hours a day", he continues while touring the Hall of the Muses and emphasizes the ability of its people to evacuate the museum in 10 minutes. It is the time they spend every day on the buildings to the more than three thousand people on average who visit the Prado free of charge: from six to eight minus ten, when another bell rings to warn that you have to leave the premises, the closing is set for eight o'clock from Monday to Saturday and for seven on Sundays and holidays.

Stealing a picture is virtually impossible. The Security team checks the walls of the art gallery several times a day among all types of public, including the blessed, visitors who not only for the love of art put their knees to pray before canvases of El Bosco, 'La Meninas' and, above all, the 'Cristo de San Plácido' by Diego de Velázquez.

Eva Cardedal: in the guts of the museum

Under the halls of the Jeronimos building that every day they travel more than 8,000 people -Almost three million a year-, Eva Cardedal monitors the vital signs of the entire complex, which covers an area of ​​41,995 square meters. 50/22 is its golden ratio. The Jefa of the maintenance service It ensures above all to ensure that the rooms of the gallery remain virtually unchanged a temperature of 22 degrees and a relative humidity of 50 percent to avoid havoc in the works.

The air that comes from the outside passes through a special washing machine to eliminate the contamination and through five filters to enter purified in a vertical current that invisible breath away from the visitors of the paintings of the masters of the painting.

Eva Cardedal, Head of Maintenance and Facilities Service of the Prado Museum. (PHOTO: José Luis Roca)

Cardedal leads a group of 40 professionals in the gut of Prado, a territory of kilometers of cables, conduits and boilers for a pinacoteca that only closes its doors to the public on May 1, December 25 and January 1. 362 days a year of full performance.

"We have few shocks but we are very aware, for example, that there are no water leaks that could ruin any of the works that are stored here," he explains in a machine room in permanent operation, whose employees they are also in charge of the electrical system from the museum and the Casón del Buen Retiro.

At any time the alarm can go off, recognizes Cardedal, lthe first woman in the history of the Prado to take over the reins of the traditionally masculine maintenance service.

"We have always on duty personnel," he adds, because each room has improved sensors with alarms that jump at the moment they detect any oddity. "Our mission is that nothing fails", he insists locked under the noble zone of the Prado before planning with his plumbers and electricians the tasks of the night shift." Before we made the arrangements on Mondays because the museum closed, "he recalls," but now we must do it when he closes ", resigned account.

María Luisa Cuenca: custody of memory

The impressive vault of the 'Apocalypse' of Luca Giordano covers the shelves of the reading room of the Prado Museum, where María Luisa Cuenca struggles these days to collect printed tickets, brochures and posters. They are pieces without economic value but exceptional witnesses of the life of the art gallery. "We have more than 2,000 and we will show them in a web microspace that we have baptized 'The ephemeral Prado'", reveals surrounded by books, magazines and manuscripts available to researchers and citizens in the Casón del Buen Retiro. It is in this coquettish building, the headquarters of the museum's study center, where the 'Guernica' of Picasso was installed from 1981 to 1992 when he moved as a tenant of honor to the Reina Sofía Museum.

María Luisa Cuenca, Head of the Library, Archive and Documentation Area of ​​the Prado Museum. (PHOTO: José Luis Roca)

Order, study and catalog the huge volume of books on European plastic arts from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century that has met the Prado is the task of Cuenca, a librarian expert who after passing through the National Library of Spain and the City of Madrid in 2017 in the museum to also take care of the documentation of the works.

Basin Review and update the file with 13,000 documents already scanned of the 43,000 that he manages especially related to the management of the museum during these two centuries of life. It is the historical memory of the art gallery. "It is still painful to read the documentation about the Civil War, when the museum's works were ordered out and in turn received requisitioned paintings in private collections of other institutions for safekeeping," he explains in a building in which more than 100,000 modern books and 6,000 old publications of artistic literature are stacked.

The archived information reveals that it was 'La Trinidad' of Ribera the first work purchased by the museum The last incorporation has been the 'Risen Christ' of Giulio Clovio, a donation from the collector Pilar Conde Gutiérrez del Álamo to the American Friends of the Prado .

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