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MNAC Barcelona – Behind the scenes at Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya

Last Updated: Oct 16, 2021 @

MNAC Barcelona - Museo Nacional d'art de Catalonia
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The MNAC – definitely very impressive.

The MNAC is located close to the Plaza Espanya in the Catalan capital of Barcelona. The collection of the Museum’s art is inside of the Palau Nacional, a huge and very impressive Italian-style villa that sits on the very top of Montjuc hill.

This has been it’s home since 1934. It was designated as a national museum in 1990. That same year, the refurbishment of the museum started and the Oval hall was reopened in 1992 in time for the Olympic games.

 

MNAC Barcelona:

 

MNAC Barcelona sign in grey
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MNAC Barcelona welcomes you. Plan on spending at least three to four hours here. There is a lot to see.

The history of the MNAC museum goes back to the 19th century. Plans were launched then to preserve the country’s artistic heritage. During the three year Spanish Civil War  (1936-1939), the director of the Catalonia Museum of Art, Joaquim Folch i Torres transferred a lot of the art to places like Girona and Paris for protection and to prevent damage and destruction.

MNAC art Barcelona
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Just one of the many interesting pieces of art at MNAC Barcelona

Museu Nacional d art de Catalunya: Tour

A visit to MNAC Barcelona was a must for us on our visit. We had the most fortunate experience to peek behind the curtains so to speak. As a special treat, we got to see the restoration department of the museum. I think it’s safe to say that, while l enjoyed my myself tremendously the whole week, this was the highlight of the trip for me. It made me feel like l did when we discovered the neighborhood of El Born..

The MNAC has one of the largest collection of Romanesque art in the world. A lot of them were previously in churches in way off destinations in the Pyrenees and the Old Catalonia. At some point, a lot of the paintings were apparently purchased and  destined to be shipped to the U.S.

Thanks to the intervention of Catalan Board of Museums, this was averted and the artwork were shipped and housed in the Arsenal section of the Parc de La Ciutadella where the Museum of Barcelona used to be.

Museu Nacional d art de Catalunya Artworks:

During the tour with our very knowledgeable guide, we got some wonderful fresco pieces like these:

Arlanza Gryphon fresco
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Arlanza Gryphon fresco

The Arlanza gryphon fresco. This used to be part of mural decorations of a former Benedictine monastery in San Pedro de Arlanza, Province of Burgos, Spain. Sections of the fresco have been sold off, but the largest group is at the museum. This dates back to 1210! How cool is that?

Museo Nacional D'Art de Catalonia
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Apse from La Seu d’Urgell

This one is by an unknown artist. It is just part of a bigger altar piece and is from the beginning of the 12th century.

Another gorgeous masterpiece depicting Jesus and some apostles.
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Another gorgeous masterpiece depicting Jesus and some apostles. Look how vibrant the colours are.

Related Reading: Poblenou Barrio

MNAC: Restoration Work

After our tour of the Roman art, we were taken upstairs to the restoration department. We met Alex, the head of the department. Him, along with 12 other restorers work behind the scenes to restore perfection to the various age ravaged works. Here is a restoration project currently taking place. Below is one of the murals that are on display. You will notice that there are several missing sections.

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Age, as expected does a number on the paintings.
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Age, as expected does a number on the paintings.

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According to Alex, when there is a need to restore the paintings, the sections in question are carefully peeled off and transferred to a new, thin canvas. Using some of the hieroglyphics and old drawings, they then work to refurbish and make it whole again. Sometimes, they have to go through several layers, oftentimes including prior restoration projects. Everything is documented and cataloged of course for future restorers.

There are approximately 300,000 pieces of artwork in the museum. About 700 pieces a year are restored, so there is always work to do, time-consuming work, extremely tedious. Knowing how delicate the work is, you can imagine the sort of instruments they use, little tweezers, baby scissors, makeup brushes and the tiniest vacuum cleaners l have ever seen :-).

MNAC Barcelona: Restoration in Progress

One of the MNAC restoration works in progress.
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One of the works in progress at MNAC behind the scenes restoration project.

CLICK TO RESERVE YOUR BARCELONA HOTEL

restoration project at MNAC Barcelona behind the scenes
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You can see what she is using to guide her, A insane amount of details to be reproduced. It takes a lot of patience and dedication.

The restorer above started work on this section roughly six months ago, and is tentatively scheduled for completion in about a year. When done, it will then be re-attached to the original section. I think the work they do is so admirable. It takes so much patience. Much more than l would ever have. To do this, you need four to five years of college. Sometimes, it feels like you are in a lab with some of the equipment they use.

From solvents to preservatives to hermetic sealers which functions to make the container so airtight, that any bugs that have infested the work die off. Restoration work is done on paintings, wood, as well as old photographs.

restoration director at MNAC Barcelona
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Alex talking about one of the current restorations, the cross

 

The Jesus that belongs on the cross
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The Jesus that belongs on the cross you see in the image, just a sample of the work going on at MNAC Barcelona. What a amazing oportunity for us to see the behind the scenes.

 

The other things that belong to the piece. Little bits of information are usually found in little tiny boxes like the one you see. This helps tell a little about the art. Ingenious.
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The other things that belong to the piece. Little bits of information are usually found in little tiny boxes like the one you see. This helps tell a little about the art. Ingenious.

 

Hard at work on another piece restoring carpet by woman in while lab coat
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Hard at work on another piece in the ongoing restoration of artefacts at MNAC.

 

Look how small that vacuum is! woman in lab coat restoring painting
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Look how small that vacuum is! Such painstaking attention to details.

 

She is restoring an old photograph. Woman in lab coat at MNAC
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She is restoring an old photograph behind the scenes at MNAC Barcelona.

 

MNAC restorers male and female talking
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Alex consulting with his colleague who is working on a wooden piece.

National Museum Barcelona: Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade at MNAC, brushes, hammer, paint,dyes on racks..
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Tools of the trade. Hammers, dyes, cotton, brushes and more used in restoration work.

 

tweezer, cotton, alcohol rubbing tools of restoration
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Imagine using these tiny instruments like tweezers on those gigantic pieces. Patience…lots and lots of it is needed.
restoration room at MNAC with machines
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Even more of the equipment used for restoration. This looks like a hospital room.

We were so impressed with some of the work that were finished and l remember several of us remarking that it was impossible to tell that any work had been carried out. I was pleased to see Alex smile, and say that was the ultimate thing for a restorer to hear. A good job has been done when you can not tell that they’ve been there.

One of the restored pieces..
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One of the restored masterpieces at museos Barcelona MNAC restoration lab.

 

MNAC art
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And this too. It’s by a famous Spanish artist whose name escapes me. It looks brand new doesn’t it?

 

MNAC Barcelona Collections:

  • Gothic Artwork
  • Romanesque Artwork
  • Baroque and Renaissance collection
  • Modern Art
marble sculpture of naked woman cascading hair sitting on stone. #MNAC #Barcelona
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What a beautiful piece of work,

Related Reading: MACBA Barcelona

Even looking up is delightful :-) MNAC ceiling with fresco art
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Even looking up at the MNAC ceiling is delightful 🙂

MNAC Barcelona – Views from the very top

Our tour ended with the view from the top of the museum. It was outstanding. From the roof, you can get an awesome view of Barcelona and of the Olympic ring. It was worth the wicked long climb to the top, because we came from the front, the plaza side. The tour buses come from the side which is much, much easier to walk up.

There is a restaurant at the top of the Palau Nacional, with the same gorgeous views. Sneaking a peek, the food looked pretty good, so l think it’s worth trying. Something we have to save for next time, in addition to the Mediea

MNAC Barcelona view
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View from the top..worth it just for that!

 

Great view of the Olympic ring from the top.
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Great view of the Olympic ring from the top.

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Museo Nacional de Arte Barcelona Information:

General Admission fee is €12 (temporary exhibition prices differ)

Free entry for all under 16.

Rooftop access is €2

Tour of the MNAC building is €2

You can purchase your tickets online here.

Nearest Metro stop for MNAC Barcelona:

The stop for MNAC Barcelona is Espanya on the L1 and L3 Metro lines.

MNAC Barcelona hours:

Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 8pm

Sundays and Public holidays: 10am – 3pm

Closed Mondays

 

A must visit in Barcelona MNAC
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MNAC is a must visit in Barcelona.

Is MNAC Barcelona worth visiting?

Yes it is. There is an impressive range of Catalan art among the Gothic and Roman artworks. The frescoes and other forms of art like tapestry will keep you enthralled for hours. The views from the top are stupendous and l think a visit to the MNAC should be part of your Barcelona itinerary. The fact that it’s free entry up to 16 years of age means that it is very good value.

Book your room at Barcelo Sants Hotel – Direct access to the airport

room at barcelo sants
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Room with a view at Barcelo Sants. The location is excellent with the train station right below.

Pin for later:

Will you be adding this to your list of things to do in Barcelona? or are you going to stick with everything Gaudi like we did on our very first visit to Barcelona?

 

 

16 thoughts on “MNAC Barcelona – Behind the scenes at Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya”

  1. Great post, I enjoy art so love the beautiful building, the setting, display and those views from the top. I’ve also learnt a lot especially about art restoration, never knew it was so complicated.

    Reply
    • It was such a wonderful visit. I wanted to include it in the first general post, but l admire what they do so much that l wanted to highlight it by itself. The building is incredible, so beautiful and so much to see. Definitely worthy of a return visit as l also love art. Thanks for the comment 🙂

      Reply
    • What’s not to like right? I am starting to get why everybody is kind of crazy for it :-). It has a lot to offer, and this was tops!

      Reply
  2. It would be so stressful to restore old art like that. I would be afraid I would mess things up! Great pics and beautiful museum and art!

    Reply
    • Thanks Holly. It is truly a beautiful place. It’s the sort of job you must love to be able to do a great job. Imagine working with a tweezer for a year! I get bored just tweeting my brows 🙂

      Reply
  3. What a cool tour. I wish all museums offered visitors a behind-the-scenes look. It would make museum visits that much more interesting to have an understanding of how museums work, how art is restored, what factors influence how exhibits are displayed, etc. I’d definitely love to check out this museum when in Barcelona!

    Reply
    • I also wish they would offer behind the scenes tour to a lot of places. You leave with a lot of respect for what they do. The work is so intricate, and the tools are just so teeny. Watching them work, and finding out for how long? wow! The insane part is that a lot of times, when the work is finished, they are put in storage!!! The unsung heroes of the art world! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Really impressive, especially the restoration work. That’s something that you don’t usually consider when looking at some of these classic pieces. It’s basically double the work of modern art: first, it had to be done, then it had to be restored 😀 Even more reasons to appreciate the things of the past.

    Reply
    • You are so right about it being double the work, sometimes more. If it is something that has been restored before, they have to dissolve the old layer based on the compounds used from the records, and then make it right again. So much responsibility. I totally admire what they do, and yes, it makes me appreciate art more.

      Reply
    • Thanks a lot Meagan :-). I appreciate the compliment and the comment.

      Reply
  5. Here, I was expecting another piece about a museum to visit. (I have visited this one- and liked it.). But, the interlude explaining the restoration activities of the museum made this really special.
    Thanks for the share.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was really surprised at the amount of work that went into the restoration projects. I don’t think l have the patience! 🙂

      Reply

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