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Masterworks from Budapest. From the Renaissance to the Avant-Garde

From 18 February to 28 May 2017

Lucas Cranach, the Elder
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1526-1530
Oil on panel. 88.4 x 58.3 cm
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts

The Renovation Project

During 1989 the renovation project was started, while the actual rebuilding became in January 1990.

The objective was clear: to house a collection of almost 800 paintings, characterised by its variety –from the Italian and Flemish Primitives to Contemporary Art. From the very beginning it was through that the concept of a museum adapted to the architecture of a palace was the desired solution. But could the installations that had belonged to the López-Quesada Bank (air conditioning, lighting, security, elevators, etc.) live up to the standards required by the temporary loan agreement of the collection?

It was not possible to give an appropriate answer to those questions. To recuperate the original architecture of the Villahermosa Palace and to equip it for the needs of a modern museum required a drastic transformation.

In the first place it was considered that the entrance should be on the side of the garden on the Calle Zorilla and not on the Carrera de San Jeronimo. The arguments in favor of this decision were both the desire to recuperate what had once been the northern façade and to give the museum a quiet and relaxed entrance, giving the garden a purpose. Such a decision meant that the orientation of the access had to changed, that the Palace had to be given a new sense of orientation this was not an easy task. A project like this implied the creation in the Palace of a entirely new structure of supporting walls, guided only by the indications given by the façades, by the perimeter.

This way the northern façade became the starting point of the new structure. The new floor-plan, the new Palace, had to be connected to the northern façade with the entrance on the side of the garden. So the northern façade became the reference point for the new floor-plan of the Palace, which could be established thanks to the axis that is left defined by the façade´s symmetry.

The central body of the building, behind the main façade, now consist of a gallery or covered courtyard that is illuminated by a peak that goes through all three floors, and around which all the rooms are connected so that a circular movement is produced on each floor, a system that is considered highly recommendable for this type of purpose.

The renovation has made it possible to provide the top floor, which holds the collections of Old Master painting, with natural lighting, while the other two floors, which hold the rest of the Collection, have openings towards the Paseo del Prado through which the visitor can enjoy typical and beautiful views of the area around the Prado Museum and the neighbourhood of Los Jeronimos.

Even through the latest renovation could be qualified as intense and profound, the architect´s wish to make it go undetected is evident. The respect for the existing proportions, the care with which the pavements have been designed, the treatment given to the thick walls, the delicate stucco-work, etc., are an expression of the will to come as close as possible to the Palace´s original architecture without it becoming an, in this case, impossible replica. It should look like something that has always been there, been within the expectations of people. In this way, the visitor of the Villahermosa Palace will be able to enjoy the splendid paintings that today -happily- hang on its walls without any distraction whatsoever.

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