• 2019.08.06
  • Prado Newsletter
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Prado Museum with a huge range of special exhibitions and another unique, special exhibition recently opening.

Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer. Parallel visions" display at the entrance to the exhibition hall

When you look at a work of art in a museum or exhibition, you look at the details and the whole of one work, then move on to the next, but this exhibition offers the pleasure of scrutinizing multiple works, going back and forth between them, discovering their differences and similarities as you compare the customs and habits of their times, as well as their expressive techniques and themes.

The exhibition compares Dutch and Spanish paintings of the 17th century. This is called Spain’s Golden Century, a proud time with a flourishing of art and literature in particular. It was the very same main theme of the Prado Museum Exhibitions held in Tokyo and Kobe last year. The Netherlands also had a Golden Age, although it was a little later, after it had become independent of Spain following the 80-year war fought from the 16th to the 17th centuries. It was a time when the Netherlands led the world not just in art, but also in science and technology, trade, shipping, and the military.

In terms of painting in the two countries, the painters most representative of the Netherlands at the time were painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer, while in Spain, Velázquez and Zurbarán are said to be enhancements to Spanish spirit, and there were occasionally times when they were regarded as polar opposites. But this comparative exhibition shows us that the two countries on each side of the divisions created by war actually have a lot in common in terms of their artistic activities and daily social life, and while each seems to have developed independently, in reality they are both part of the same pan-European developments. Thirty-six representative works from each country were selected along the lines of this exhibition theme for an exhibition totaling some 72 works.

Along with works from the Prado Museum's collection sit works borrowed principally from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, as well as the National Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Mauritshuis Museum in the Netherlands, and others.

Exhibition pamphlet

Left: Velázquez "Menippus (Ancient Greek Cynic Philosopher)" Prado Museum
This painting was exhibited at the Prado Exhibition held in Japan last year.
Right: Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul" at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Both are depicted not in the image of a saint or an idealized philosopher, but a real, everyday person.

Two landscapes

Left: Velázquez " View of the Garden of the Villa Medici " Prado Museum, 48.5 x 43 cm
Right: Vermeer "The Little Street (View of Houses in Delft)" Rijksmuseum, 54.3 x 44 cm
Velázquez (1599-1660) and Vermeer (1632-1675) were contemporaries. As painter and artistic director to the Spanish court, Velázquez dealt with a large number of famous works, and deepened his knowledge by traveling twice to Italy, buying art works from the place where fine arts originated. Vermeer, on the other hand, virtually never left his hometown of Delft until he died at the age of 43, so there were some very fundamental differences between the spheres of activity and creative environments of the two.

However, both these works, which were painted around the same time, had no special theme, and are more like snapshots of everyday scenes at the time. But the similarities in their portrayals, the peeling walls of unadorned buildings, the figures appearing in quite natural stances, the almost audible stirring of the trees and commotion of townspeople going about their everyday lives, erase in an instant the differences between the two painters: the physical distance, the differences in their livelihoods as painters, and the differences in their social lives and milieus.

As an inconsequential aside, another similarity is that the two paintings are almost the same size. Being displayed side by side, in line with the exhibition’s theme, I found that the people looking at the paintings were kept busy going back and forth between them. If you get the opportunity to visit Madrid, don't miss this rare exhibition. It will save you the trouble of going back and forth between Amsterdam and Madrid.

By the way, there is usually only one Rembrandt work that you can see at the Prado Museum.

Rembrandt's “Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes” Prado Museum collection. It is said to be a perfect example of the technique of lifting up paints with lead-white pigment. From the Prado Museum website.

Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer. Parallel visions
Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer. Miradas afines
Venue: Prado Museum, Madrid
Dates: June 25, 2019 to September 25, 2019

Prado Museum - Exhibition Website

Additional Note from the Netherlands
To commemorate the 350th anniversary of his death, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has made 2019 the Year of Rembrandt and is planning a variety of events. One of them is a “Rembrandt - Velázquez” exhibition. This too is an exhibition juxtaposing 17th-century Dutch and Spanish paintings featuring the two great masters representing the two countries, so if you miss it in Madrid, you can catch up with it in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt - Velázquez: Dutch and Spanish masters
Venue: Rijksmuseum Philips Wing, Amsterdam
Dates: October 11, 2019 to January 19, 2020
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Exhibition Website


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

View a list of Susumu Yamada's

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