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Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya


Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
MNAC Barcelona
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
Established 1934
Location Palau Nacional, Barcelona
Type Art museum
Collection size 290,000
Visitors 828,713 (2010)
Director Pepe Serra
Nearest car park On site (no charge)
Website /en.catmuseunacional
From view of the Palau Nacional, which houses the museum
Aerial view of the Palau Nacional, seen from the back

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Catalan pronunciation: , English: "National Art Museum of Catalonia"), abbreviated as MNAC, is the national museum of Catalan visual art located in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Situated on Montjuïc hill at the end of Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, near Pl Espanya, the museum is especially notable for its outstanding collection of romanesque church paintings, and for Catalan art and design from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including modernisme and noucentisme. The Museum is housed in the Palau Nacional, a huge, Italian-style building dating to 1929. The Palau Nacional, which has housed the Museu d'Art de Catalunya since 1934, was declared a national museum in 1990 under the Museums Law passed by the Catalan Government. That same year, a thorough renovation process was launched to refurbish the site, based on plans drawn up by the architects Gae Aulenti and Enric Steegmann, who were later joined in the undertaking by Josep Benedito. The Oval Hall was reopened in 1992 on the occasion of the Olympic Games, and the various collections were installed and opened over the period from 1995 (when the Romanesque Art section was reopened) to 2004. The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Museu Nacional) was officially inaugurated on 16 December 2004.[1]


  • History 1
  • Collections 2
    • Romanesque Art 2.1
    • Gothic Art Collection 2.2
    • Renaissance and Baroque Art Collection 2.3
      • The Cambó Bequest 2.3.1
      • Thyssen Bornemisza Collection 2.3.2
    • Modern Art Collection 2.4
      • The Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza Collection 2.4.1
      • Cabinet of Drawings and Prints 2.4.2
      • Numismatic Cabinet of Catalonia 2.4.3
  • The building 3
  • Library and Archive 4
  • Museum Network 5
  • Educational activities 6
  • Restoration and Preventive Conservation Centre 7
  • Directors 8
  • In popular culture 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


The history of this institution dates back to the 19th century, when, in accordance with the principles that inspired Catalonia's cultural and political Renaixença (renaissance), a movement particularly active in that century, many projects were launched to help revive and conserve the country's artistic heritage. This process began with the establishment of the Museu d'Antiguitats de Barcelona (Barcelona Museum of Antiquities) in the Chapel of St Agatha (1880) and the Museu Municipal de Belles Arts (Municipal Fine Art Museum) in the Palau de Belles Arts (1891), a palace built to mark the occasion of the 1888 Universal Exhibition. A project to install all these Catalan art collections in the Palau Nacional, launched in 1934 under the initiative of Joaquim Folch i Torres, the first director of Catalonia Museum of Art, was frustrated by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), when for protection many works were transferred to Olot, Darnius and Paris (where an important exhibit was established). During the postwar period, the 19th- and 20th-century collections were installed in the Museu d'Art Modern, housed from 1945 to 2004 in the Arsenal building in Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella, whilst the Romanesque, Gothic and baroque collections were installed in the Palau in 1942.

The Palau Nacional, which has housed the Museu d'Art de Catalunya since 1934, was declared a national museum in 1990 under the Museums Law passed by the Catalan Government. In 1992 a thorough renovation process was launched to refurbish the site, based on plans drawn up by the architects Gae Aulenti and Enric Steegmann, who were later joined in the undertaking by Josep Benedito. The Oval Hall was reopened in 1992 on the occasion of the Olympic Games, and the various collections were installed and opened over the period from 1995 (when the Romanesque Art section was reopened) to 2004. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Museu Nacional) was officially inaugurated on 16 December 2004.

Since 2004, the Palau Nacional has once more housed several magnificent art collections, mostly by Catalan art, but also Spanish and European art. The works from that first museum have now been enriched by new purchases and donations, tracing the country’s art history from early medieval times to the mid-20th century: from Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque to modern art. This heritage is completed by the Gabinet Numismàtic de Catalunya (coin and medal collections), the Gabinet de Dibuixos i Gravats (drawings and engravings) and the Library.[1]


Romanesque Art

It is one of the most important and outstanding collections in the Museum, due largely to the series of mural paintings it includes. Indeed, the Museu Nacional Romanesque Collection is unmatched by that of any other museum in the world. Many of the works here originally adorned rural churches in the Pyrenees and other sites in Old Catalonia, or Catalunya Vella, as it is known; they began to be discovered and studied in the early 20th century, particularly after a Pyrenean expedition in 1907 by the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (Institute of Catalan Studies), which later published Les pintures murals catalanes (Catalan Mural Paintings). Years later, the news emerged that a group of foreign financiers and antiquarians had block-purchased most of these paintings to be taken to the United States of America. Although there were no laws in Spain at that time to forbid the expatriation of art, the Junta de Museus (Catalan Board of Museums) was able to successfully intervene in order to rescue, dismantle and transfer works to the Museum of Barcelona (1919–1923), then housed in the Parc de la Ciutadella, thus conserving and protecting these Romanesque works, considered a completely unique piece of art heritage and also a symbol of the birth and formation of Catalonia.[2]

The Romanesque rooms are arranged in chronological and stylistic order, giving visitors a view of the different tendencies in Catalan Romanesque art and featuring works produced, for the most part, in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

The visit to this section begins with the mural paintings from Sant Joan in Boí, which show clear stylistic influences from the French Carolingian tradition, and then continues with works showing the Italian influence that dominated painting from the late 11th century, doubtless as a result of the influence of the Gregorian Reform. This style is illustrated in such excellent works as the mural paintings from Sant Quirze de Pedret, Santa Maria d'Àneu and Sant Pere del Burgal.

However, the rooms of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya also feature a particularly outstanding example of European Romanesque art: the remarkable, original and extraordinarily expressive paintings from the Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll, including the famous Pantocrator or Christ in Majesty, an undisputed masterpiece from the 12th century that forms tangible evidence of the creative power of Catalan painting. Beside this superb piece stands another magnificent group of works, from Santa Maria de Taüll, the most important example of the interior of a Romanesque church painted throughout, with much of its decoration conserved today.

The Romanesque section ends with the paintings from San Pedro de Arlanza and the chapter house of Sigena. The latter features one of the most magnificent pictorial series in this new style, called 1200 art, which swept across Europe in the 13th century. The piece has been conserved in the museum since it was severely damaged by fire in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War.[2]

Romanesque rooms also show the techniques that distinguished Catalan art at the time, such as panel painting, wood carving and others that help to complete our aesthetic vision of Romanesque, such as precious metalwork and carving stone.

The collection of panel paintings, unique in Europe, is another singular aspect of Romanesque painting, due both to the number and antiquity of the Catalan works conserved (the result of interest in the Romanesque since the late19th century) and to their quality and technical diversity. Particularly outstanding are the frontals of the Apostles (also known as the Frontal of La Seu d'Urgell), Alòs d'Isil, Avià and Cardet, which are rightly considered paradigms of an original pictorial technique, embodying enormous artistic interest. Moreover, the wood carving collection completes this wide-ranging summary of Romanesque art, featuring fine works of different types, such as Virgin of Ger, the Batlló Majesty and the carvings in the Erill la Vall Descent from the Cross.

There are also sculptures in stone that form part of the Museu Nacional Romanesque art collection, particularly a number of works from Ripoll and a large group of elements from ensembles in the city of Barcelona, including the refined marble capitals from the former Hospital de Sant Nicolau. Finally, the Romanesque section also features an important collection of enamels, mostly produced in Limoges, such as the Mondoñedo Crosier.[3]

Gothic Art Collection

Gothic Art Rooms
Saint George and the Princess, Anonymous

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya Gothic art collection began to take shape in the early decades of the 19th century, when a movement was first launched to revive and conserve the important body of Catalan heritage, which had been seriously damaged in the wave of convent burnings that took place at around the time of the disentailment of church goods in the year 1835.

The Gothic collection features a considerable number of Catalan works accompanied, moreover, by an extraordinary selection of pieces from the other territories that were once ruled by the Crown of Aragon. As a whole, this section presents a broad, representative panoramic view of Gothic art produced in the three large peninsular territories that formed part of the kingdom of AragonCatalonia, Aragon itself, and Valencia – as well as a more anecdotal selection of works from Majorca.

The Gothic rooms display works from the late 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, arranged in chronological order, although the pieces are also grouped by school and typological affinity, and several thematic sections have been established. These include the renowned Mural paintings of the Conquest of Majorca, which preside over the first Gothic room. This same room also contains other works on profane themes or from secular sites, including elements from the enteixinats (coffered ceilings) of noble Barcelona houses to amatory caskets.

Other works in this and the following rooms, from Castile, Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia, clearly illustrate the predominance of French Gothic models, which endured until the mid-14th century, when competition was finally offered by new Italianate models. This new style, developed in the Italy of Giotto, was adopted and adapted here, working a profound transformation in painting and sculpture not only in Catalonia, but throughout the reigns forming part of the Crown of Aragon.

Besides a few Italian examples, the Museu Nacional also features an important selection of Italian, Catalan and Aragonese painting, such as the Triptych of Sant Vicenç d'Estopanyà, probably by an immigrant Italian artist, and altarpieces by the Serra brothers (the Serra family were highly influential in steering the course of Catalan painting during the closing decades of the 14th century). Sculpture during this period from the mid-14th century, was also influenced by Italian models, although the French Gothic style continued to exercise its authority. The collection includes works that may be attributed to some of the most outstanding sculptors of the time, such as Jaume Cascalls (see Head of Christ) and Bartomeu de Robió. Catalan sculpture in the late-14th century and the first half of the 15th is represented by two misericords from Barcelona cathedral carved stalls by Pere Sanglada. From the 15th century, working in the new International Gothic style, Pere Oller and Pere Joan perhaps represent the peak of what was without doubt an important Catalan contribution to sculptural art.

Amongst Catalan painters, Lluís Borrassà, Joan Mates, Bernat Martorell, Ramon de Mur and Joan Antigó are amongst the finest exponents of International Gothic, a style that also coincided with the period when Valencia was flourishing as a centre for art. Valencia is represented in the Museu Nacional by such outstanding artists as Gonçal Peris. The Gothic collection also features examples of painting from Aragon, another region that enjoyed considerable influence at this time. The exchange of influences continued, in both directions, during the period that followed when artistic representation became more realistic, and which took its initial inspiration from Jan van Eyck: the Valencian artist Lluís Dalmau painted the universally acclaimed Virgin of the Consellers whilst the Catalan Joan Reixac – whose work is well represented at the Museu Nacional– directed the most prolific workshop in Valencia. It was also after a period in Valencia that Jaume Huguet, the great Catalan painter working in the second half of the 15th century, made his residence definitively in Barcelona, establishing his dominance and setting up a school there. Complementing a generous selection of Huguet's works, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya also contains examples from artists active during the same period, such as Pere Garcia de Benabarre, who worked in both Aragon and Catalonia and created another successful formula based on similar cultural components.

Besides this central strain in autochthonous painting, the panorama of Gothic art also features various other important episodes, such as the time spent by Cathedral of la Seu d'Urgell, painted at the end of the 20th century by an artist from Perpignan who is known by various names, including that of the Master of La Seu d'Urgell.[4]

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