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National Art Museum of Catalonia

Updated on January 12, 2018
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As a history major and art enthusiast, Mary often visits Museums of countries she travels to and being in Barcelona, she visited this Museum

The Theme of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia

Museums have themes and for the National Art Museum of Catalonia or MNAC as it is often referred to, it is to demonstrate that Catalonia is great and unique in its culture and history and deserves to have its own voice in the world community.

Thus, the display of the collection of individual pieces of art and architecture supports this theme of consistent uniqueness and genius in Catalonyan artists and history ,rather than the defining work of any of the many world class artists that have connections with the region. It is an interesting slant to the display and enables one to fully appreciate its message.

Here's the building of the National Art Museum of Catalonia

National Art Museum of Catalonia
National Art Museum of Catalonia | Source

Here's the Home of the National Art Museum of Catalonia: The Palau Nacional

The building itself, the Palau Nacional (National Palace), where the national Museum is housed, is a great chest-pounding statement of power and importance. Flanked by the Congress centre, there is little subtlety. Built to dominate the city in size and height, and also to display the symbols of Catalonia that spread out at its feet like crown jewels.

The whole complex is more awe-inspiring than it is beautiful. It was built to impress not to share. It is almost Stalinesque in its naked fist power. The sum of Catalonia's National Museum of Art is a powerful statement of a unique culture developed over more than 2000 years..

The external impact is almost the opposite of the inside, which is full of light and quite beautiful. With its central domed meeting area used for performances and the display rooms on the sides, the Museum is like and open plaza with its side streets, nooks and alleys open for exploration.

The trip to the top of the dome is a must do. There, you will see a panoramic view of the city with most of its landmark attractions. Behind, you can see the Olympic Park.

The Palau Nacional of Catalonia

Palau Nacional Catalonia
Palau Nacional Catalonia | Source

Where is the National Art Museum of Catalonia located?

show route and directions
A markerNational Art Museum of Catalonia -
Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
get directions

B markerPalau Nacional -
Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
get directions

A Visit to the National Museum of Art

This current Museum puts together the collections of the Catalonia Museum of Art (founded in 1934) and the Museum of Modern Art (founded in 1945).To visit the Museum is easy. The area, Plaza Espanya, is accessible by public transport including the Metro. Once you reach Plaza Espanya, you won't miss the Palau Nacional where the Museum is. You will also see the escalators leading up all the way to the Museum making access a delight for seniors.

The Museum is also free for Seniors so my husband and I walk there to take the collections section by section. The Romanesque Collection is the most impressive so if your time is limited, go there first and see the paintings and frescoes from the tiny 10th century churches of the Boi Valley, a World Heritage site. Then, you can enter the great debate, leave art in its heritage sites with limited accessibility or take it to protected galleries for the world to see.

There are cafes and a beautiful restaurant in the building so you can spend your day there easily. You will not be bored, I promise.

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Romanesque Mural

Romanesque Mural
Romanesque Mural | Source

The Museum's Impressive Romanesque Collection

As we have read that this Museum has the best Romanesque collection of frescoes, we immediately went there and we were awed.

As you enter the Romanesque collection, the murals are installed on simulations of their origin locations and they draw you in. These murals were carefully taken from old Churches in the remote villages of the Pyrenees, where some had been lost to the ravages of war and to the Museum for the world to see.

Romanesque art grew from a Byzantine stock, before Gothic influences from Europe took over. At that time, there was some sort of stability in Europe and with that prosperity, tithes and taxes were paid, making the Church which held so much land very wealthy. Such wealth enabled them to commission the frescoes as there was a real shortage of silver or bronze for statues.

At that time, there were really few artists as we have them today. Many painters and stone masons were artisans working with a team of skilled workers constructing mostly Churches. In some cases, there is a Master, but in the case of paintings the name attached is often associated with the one who commissioned it and not the artist. Recently, art scholars have distinguished the special characteristics of some of the Masters of that time and have attributed some of the art to them or to their influence.

These Romanesque murals and art are truly magnificent but for the locals, these are also symbols of the birth of Catalonia. The Museum claims that without these restorations, most of this art would be lost.

Christ, Pantocrator

Pantocrator | Source

Another Example of Romanesque Art

The above Pantocrator, which means Omnipotent or Almighty, is a Romanesque wall painting done by the Master of Taull in 1123 for the Church of St. Clemente de Taull in Catalonia. Several of these masters have been identified by studying some of these Romanesque works. Taull is a tiny village in the north of Leida, in the Boi Valley, part of Catalonia.

Adoration of the Angels in the Gothic Collection of the Museum

Adoration of the Angels
Adoration of the Angels | Source

The Gothic Collection

Gothic architecture really evolved most in the 12th century, to peak in the 15th century morphing into the Renaissance. As wealth more and more came from trade, the monastery as the main patron of the art was also supported by individual merchant patrons.

With the increase in trade, cities became the centre of life, universities were founded, and the mercantile bourgeoisie with access to a great deal of money started to commission construction, paintings of their families and other works of art with more secular themes.

Gothic art was first recognized in the northern part of France in the Abbey Church of St. Denis but the style spread rapidly. In Spain, it travelled in the minds of the pilgrims who came from the North to Santiago de Compostela and those from the South transported the ideas there.

Although there was a growing volume of secular art at this time, the religious themes survived and strengthened as seen in the Gothic collection of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia.

Catalan works comprise much of the collection with great pieces from what once was the Aragon Kingdom and Valencia. Many of the works are from the late 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.

In the Museum, there are also Renaissance and Baroque paintings including those of Francisco Zurbaran, El Greco and Diego Velasquez.

Orientalism in Bourgeoisie Painting in Catalonia

Orientalism in Modern Art
Orientalism in Modern Art | Source

Modern Art

The Museum's collection of modern art started with a depiction of the artist and his journey towards freedom, towards a depiction of himself. However, this artist, wanting to express his own freedom especially from the bourgeoisie, also had to live so had to get commissions from this moneyed class and these commissions often were required to depict the patrons' wealth in all its expressions.

Trends from France are often followed and this included orientalist, landscape and open-air paintings. New media came and the impact of modernization can now be seen in the arts. The legacy of the Islamic presence is also seen in the architectural backgrounds and floral additions.

The artists move easily from the drawing rooms of the bourgeoisie to the taverns and brothels and social criticism which all became part of his art. The Museum's collection shows clearly the journey towards the modern century and the gradual loosening of the restrictions of historical models.

Also included in the Modern Art collection are some works from Antoni Gaudi, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Tapies.

Below is an example of secular art towards which artists of the modern times moved. "After the Party" is part of the journey towards independence from their usual patrons, the Church and the Bourgeoisie.

However, the second picture depicts the artists continuing dependence on their bourgeois patrons to put bread on the table.

Modern Secular Art

Secular Art
Secular Art | Source

Bourgeois Painting with Wealth on Display

Bourgeois Painting
Bourgeois Painting | Source

Your Preferred Art

Which of these do you prefer?

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A Visit to the National Museum of Art of Catalonia

Have you been to the Museum of National Art of Catalonia?

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Special Exhibitions

The Museum often has temporary exhibitions that are worthwhile visiting. When we visited, there were two artists on display: Francesc Torres and Ramon Pichot.

After you have visited the collections, enjoy the view of the city in the Cafe outside.

For opening hours and prices, here's the link to the Museum's site.

© 2018 Mary Norton


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 days ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for the visit. It is one museum we really love. We go there whenever we have time. There is so much to do in the area.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 days ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Mary, I really love museums. I would love to visit ths one someday. Thank you for sharing!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, we were back there the other day and once again, enjoyed looking at the dome of the Palau.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      I think that these art pieces should be kept where they are best preserved and safest. The Palau Nacional is also impressive. Thanks for sharing the history and beauty.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 3 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you so much. I am sure you have your own adventure for now as you go deeper into your writing.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 3 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

      Lovely tour of these delightful museum finds and history. Thanks so much for sharing the adventure. Makes me want to see these in person.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

      We enjoyed those very much. The Museum took those from Boi Valley churches so they were preserved.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      What a magnificent place! Thanks for showcasing the National Art Museum of Catalonia and some of what it contains. My husband and I would happily spend a day there if we would travel that way again. Those murals are amazing!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 5 weeks ago from USA

      This is one place we would end up if my family traveled to the region. Although I appreciate art like I shop--quickly--my teenage daughter slows me, particularly with modern art and interprets. I really enjoyed the modern art you discussed and displayed here.

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 5 weeks ago from Egypt

      I like art museums, i liked reading your interesting article.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting. Mary. I loved looking at the art and learning about it. The museum looks like a wonderful place to explore.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 5 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      What great photos! Though I LOVE art museums, it might be a while before I get to this one. So thanks for sharing these treasures with us!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      That was a fun and educational read. What a magnificent building that is.

    • Ultimate Hubber profile image

      Ultimate Hubber 5 weeks ago

      What an amazing collection at the museum! BTW the museum itself is a piece of art.