The Museum of Romanticism, a journey to the 19th century

There is a building in the street of San Mateo, in the neighborhood of Justicia, Chueca, keeping the classicist palace of the marquis of Matallana. This building where one can hear echoes from the 19th century hosts the exhibition of the Museum of Romanticism, founded in 1924 by the second marquis of Vega-Inclán. The aim of this museum is to provide a glimpse of the artistic movement we call Romanticism, as well as presenting to the visitors the lifestyle of the time period this movement belongs to. 

Romanticism, a period of change

Before we come into the palace, we should perhaps understand what Romanticism really is and where it comes from. To this effect, we will travel back to the 18th century, when the socio-economic political doctrine known as Liberalism came into existence in opposition to the conservatism of the Ancien Régime. Likewise, historians mark the beginning of the Modern Age and the end of the Middle Ages in that same period, which also encompasses the French Revolution. 

As we can see, this was a time of change, and there had to be an artistic movement capturing these new ideas. Said movement happened to be Romanticism, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, was “a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions”.  

A red building

The façade of the Museum of Romanticism. | Shutterstock

Even though some aspects of Romanticism differ depending on the country, others were consistent worldwide. For instance, the Romantic movement placed feelings and emotions above rationalism and the values preached by the Enlightenment. Romantics believed in individualism and the importance of the self, and they drew inspiration from nature and nationalism. These shared aspects are, among others, the backbone of Romanticism. 

The movement arrived in Spain later than in other parts of Europe, but it didn’t last long. This happened mainly due to the fact that Realism played a central role in Spain from the mid-19th century. Hence, Spanish Romanticism spanned from the first half of said century to the 1870s. One of the most celebrated artworks from this time period is Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla. Other remarkable Spanish Romantics were José de Espronceda, Rosalía de Castro and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. 

The history of the Museum of Romanticism 

The origin story of the Museum of Romanticism begins in 1921, when the Sociedad Española de Amigos del Arte organized an exhibition devoted to Romanticism. The catalogue Tres salas del Museo Romántico was written accordingly. Benigno de la Vega-Inclán, second marquis of Vega-Inclán, wrote a foreword expressing his intention of creating a museum of Romanticism that would display pieces from the time period between the Peninsular War (1808) and the end of the Hispano-Moroccan War (1860). This is how the project of the museum started up. 

A museum room with paintings and a piano

One of the rooms in the museum. | Wikimedia

The museum was officially founded in 1924, after they rented the palace of the marquis of Matallana. This was made possible thanks to the donations of Vega-Inclán. After his death, the government acquired both the property and its assets. However, in 1945 the museum reopened with Mariano Rodríguez de Rivas as its director. He expanded the facilities by adding a library and an assembly hall, and the museum began to host art events. 

A journey to our Romantic past

The museum has gone through several reforms over the years. It hosts a remarkable collection comprising hundreds of paintings, miniatures, furnishings, vignettes, and pictures, among other things. The interior of the palace mimics the Romantic style, with Elizabethan tapestry, portraits by Federico Madrazo and antique boudoirs that bring the visitor to the everyday life of the bourgeoisie of the Romantic period.  

This way, mirroring the modus operandi of historic house museums, this building reproduces the rooms and atmosphere of nineteenth-century wealthy families. Some of the most important rooms are the ballroom, where they used to arrange all the social gatherings, the dining room, and the auditorium. The portrait of Elizabeth II by Madrazo, the paintings of Sátira del Suicidio Romántico by Leonardo Alenza, and the writing desk in the study are some of the key items the visitor simply cannot miss. Besides, every inch of this journey to the past comes along with the echoes of Romantic poetry.  

Front picture: Another room in the museum. | Wikimedia

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