National Art Museum of Catalonia, an ode to beauty

Far from Barcelona‘s plain, a building watches over the city from the heights of the Montjuic district. Its monumental figure, standing majestically over the Plaza de España, overwhelms the visitor. It is the Palau Nacional, a building that was built with the unique aim of housing art. Its exterior is worthy of its interior. So much so, that it can be assured that this time the appearance does not deceive. The colossal construction houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia, a gallery that combines Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary art. Even if the visitor is not a staunch admirer of the plastic arts, he will be able to appreciate the wonders that his eyes can see in this place.

National Art Museum of Catalonia

Inside of the National Art Museum of Catalonia. | EG

The best collection of Romanesque mural painting in the world.
The Palau Nacional was built in 1929 for the celebration of the International Exhibition of Barcelona. Its main dome, the largest, presides over the exterior façade. This dome, inspired by that of St. Peter’s in the Vatican, is the center of attention, the calling card of the enclave. In turn, the four towers surrounding the dome are reminiscent of those of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Once inside the building, the museum divides its permanent collection into three.

From the oldest to the most modern, on the lower floor the tour begins with what is considered the best collection of Romanesque mural painting in the world. At least according to the museum itself. Thus, sculptures, liturgical objects and panel paintings merge with the main attraction of the section: the walls and ceilings.

National Art Museum of Catalonia

Romanesque section at the National Art Museum of Catalonia. | EG

At the beginning of the 20th century many Romanesque murals were discovered in the churches of the Pyrenees. Soon, the Catalan public institutions promoted the acquisition of the paintings. To this end, through complicated procedures, the paintings were torn from their walls and transferred in 1923 to the National Art Museum of Catalonia. The works of art were then placed in the Palau Nacional building, simulating the spaces to which they belonged. Thus, walking through this place becomes a walk through a dream built of medieval art with Byzantine and Islamic reflections.

Before changing rooms and periods, the hall of the building awaits in the middle. Heart of the museum, this room is the largest. Its huge dome, its arches and its white staircases, which surround the entire room, give the space a great luminosity. Here you can visit the cafeteria for a somewhat overpriced snack or you can continue your visit.

National Art Museum of Catalonia

Lobby of the National Art Museum of Catalonia. | EG

A walk through the history of art

Following the chronological order, the next collection would be the Gothic art, which shares the route with the Renaissance and Baroque. In the Gothic part, whose works belong mostly to the former territories of the Crown of Aragon, the altarpieces stand out above all. Sculptures by Jaume Cascalls or Pere Joan merge with paintings by Lluís Borrassà or Jaume Huguert. Religious motifs were once again the protagonists of the moment.

But, at the end of the 15th century, Gothic art was not alone, but coexisted with Baroque and Renaissance representations. In addition, many artists from other places also contributed their own styles. Thus, works by Goya or Velázquez merge with others by painters such as Titian and El Greco.

The permanent collection ends in the most modern part, on the upper floor. There, the tour is structured in four areas: The Modern Artist, Modernism, Noucentisme and Art and the Civil War. A final part gives shelter to an even more recent period: From the avant-garde to the postwar period. Thus, modern art is represented in these five phases by sculpture, painting, photography, poster art and cinema, among other plastic techniques. Among its many artists, works by Gaudí, Ramón Casas, Joan Miró and Ángeles Santos stand out.

One last stop: the views from Montjuic

Barcelona from Montjuic

Views of Barcelona from Montjuic. | EG

Once the permanent visit is over, if the traveler still has enough energy left, there are still the temporary exhibitions and a part of photography and numismatics. As icing on the cake are, in addition, the views offered from the heights of Montjuic. At its feet shines the so-called magic fountain, famous for its light and water shows. Beyond, the city of Barcelona buzzes with life. The scene is probably accompanied by the beat of a street musician who makes you feel like you’re in an indie film.

As you can see, the visit takes time, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead. The general admission, by the way, costs 12 euros, but there is also the option to take a basic one that does not include passage to the permanent collection, but does include passage to the building and a couple of exhibitions. In addition, every Saturday from 3pm and the first weekend of each month, admission to the National Art Museum of Catalonia is free.

About the author