The Prado Museum Shows Paintings in Different Light

The Prado Museum, With Its "On the Reverse" Show With Hundred Works, Reveals a Rarely Seen Side of Paintings.

Nov 15, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The Prado Museum
The museum. Via Gloria Beruetta


The Prado Museum hosts “On the Reverse” show, which presents around 100 artworks. Many artists are in the collection, such as René Magritte, Vincent Van Gogh, Goya, Sophie Calle and Michelangelo Pistoletto. Their selection comes from the Prado‘s and 29 other museums’ endowments. Also, the pieces stand “in reverse”, with their backs to the audience.


The Three-Dimensional Works

The Prado Museum
Bernard van Orley, The Holy Family (reverse) (1522). Courtesy of the museum.


The enigmatic Las Meninas (1656) by Diego Velázquez seems to indicate a picture sitting in process. The tiny Infanta Margaret Theresa is posing in the centre of the photograph, surrounded by her entourage and a dog. Situated over to the side, Velázquez is staring at a big canvas. This implies that the sight we are viewing is being painted by him. Or perhaps not. Unfortunately, the sole view we have of the painted panel is its reverse.


However, Las Meninas offered artist Miguel Ángel Blanco a seductive opportunity to ponder a little observed facet of artworks. Also, he organised a new show at the Prado Museum in Madrid as a result of such idea. This also argues that a piece of art is more than just what is visible. These canvases’ backs disclose very different worlds. Some have seals or sketches by the artist, and some have stamps that serve as proof of the piece’s origin.


The Prado Museum
A possible self-portrait, attributed to Orazio Borgianni (1600–10). Courtesy of the museum.


Others contain whole other paintings. “Works of art are three-dimensional. When we focus solely on the image, which is a reproduction of a given moment frozen in time, we get some information, but we miss a lot when it comes to everything that the work means as an object”, the museum’s director, Miguel Falomir explained.

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What Painting is the Exhibition’s Highlight?

Kneeling Nun
Martin van Meytens, Kneeling Nun (obverse) (c. 1731). Stockholm, Nationalmuseum. Courtesy of the museum.


The portions examining how artworks’ supports function as extension of their faces are especially fascinating. They also show the artist’s creative process. For example, the back of Annibale Carracci‘s The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene (1585–1600) features black chalk lines made by the Italian painter’s apprentices.


On the other hand, the artist’s observations on figures and landscapes appear on the back of a canvas by Vicente Palmaroli. A powerful piece that speaks to the core of the exhibition is on display in a section devoted to two-sided canvases. The Swedish-Austrian court painter Martin van Meytens depicted the title character, Kneeling Nun, bending over her holy book in the middle of a prayer.


Kneeling Nun
Martin van Meytens, Kneeling Nun (reverso) (c. 1731). Stockholm, Nationalmuseum. Courtesy of the museum.


“It’s an excellent example of a pornographic image half-hidden on the reverse that belonged to the Swedish ambassador to Paris, who kept it hidden and only showed it to special guests”, Blanco explained.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.