Biblical Archaeology Review 41:5, September/October 2015

Strata: Museums Struggle over Crucifixion Painting

It’s a showdown between two Spanish powerhouses: the world-renowned Prado Museum in Madrid and a newcomer, the Museum of Royal Collections. With the backing of the Patrimonio Nacional—the national heritage agency responsible for pieces belonging to the Spanish Crown—the Museum of Royal Collections is in its final phase of construction and is anticipated to open in Madrid in the latter half of 2016. It will house a thousand pieces from the royal collection on a rotating basis; this is just a small portion of the royal holdings administered by the Patrimonio Nacional, which exceed 150,000 pieces.

The dispute concerns four paintings owned by the royal family that are currently displayed in the Prado Museum. José Rodríguez-Spiteri Palazuelo, the president of the Patrimonio Nacional, has requested that these four paintings—including the Prado’s two biggest attractions, The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden and The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch—be transferred to the Museum of Royal Collections, and the Prado has adamantly refused his request. In the words of José Pedro Pérez-Llorca, the chairman of the Prado’s board, “If he is waiting to have the paintings in his place, he has to wait until hell freezes over.”

Painted by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden c. 1435, The Descent from the Cross was procured by Maria of Hungary around 1548. She left it to her nephew, King Philip II, who then deposited it in the San Lorenzo de El Escorial Monastery in 1574.

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