Three museums in European capitals—London, Madrid, Berlin—opened spectacular new galleries this fall/winter. The collections are unrivaled—some of them on view for the first time—and their exhibition design provides visitors with novel perspectives and insights that beg a lingering afternoon.
London, Victoria & Albert Museum. Ten Medieval and Renaissance Galleries shed bright, fresh light on the art and culture of Europe, 300-1600 AD. Objects range from Gothic altarpieces to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, chock-full of diagrams, sketches, and schemes. Reconstructions include the façade of a London house, ca. 1600, and the Florence study of Piero de Medici, son of Lorenzo the Great. Notions of the so-called Dark Ages are made to fade quickly. One gallery outlines Europe’s ties through trade and diplomacy to the known world beyond the continent, from the Ottoman empire to the Far East, including Kotte (present day Sri Lanka), which is represented by an intricately carved ivory casket that mixes Eastern and Western religious cosmology and which was a gift in the 16th century by King Dharmapala to John III of Portugal. The treasures are priceless; admission to the V&A is free.
Spain, The Prado Museum. When in fall 2007 the Prado opened its large-scale expansion, designed by Rafael Moneo, the scene was set for a reorganization of one of the world’s finest collections. Now, two years later, the Prado has completed its new 19th-century galleries. Elsewhere in the museum are masterworks of Titian, Velázquez, and Rubens, but here in a central gallery on the ground floor is the institution’s core linked to its history: “Goya, Neoclassicism, and Origins of the Museo del Prado,” the first of 12 galleries. Paintings in some rooms are hung salon style, pictures over pictures, and give the visitor a sense of the era linked to the Prado’s establishment in 1819. The museum’s impressive sculpture collection, ranging from classical Greek and Roman to 19th-century, is showcased throughout and offers lively counterpoint.
Berlin, Neues Museum. After more than a 10-year, $250 million investment the Neues or "New" Museum has opened on the city’s Museum Island. The building, part of a cultural complex created in the 19th-century, suffered bombing in the Second World War and neglect during the Communist era, has been born anew. Part re-creation, restoration, and renovation, the museum and its galleries represent the stunning achievement of British architect David Chipperfield who revived the Neues along the lines of the original architect Friedrich August Stüler through wholly modern means. The result is as much a tribute to Stüler as it is to ideals of architecture. The museum, which contains one of the pre-eminent Egyptian collections in Europe, hosts the ravishing bust of Nefertiti, who resides again in serene majesty.
Mario R. Mercado is the arts editor at Travel + Leisure.