The Museo de Bellas Artes is one of the most important art museums in Spain, probably the second one after El Museo del Prado in Madrid. It exhibits the most famous paintings of the Seville School (15th to 17th centuries) featuring an impressive collection of works by Murillo, Valdés Leal, Zurbarán and El Greco among others.
Check the Museo de Bellas Artes website for more information on opening hours and entrance fares.
7 keys to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville
Not only is the collection impressive, but the buildings and patio gardens are as well, so take a couple hours out of your visit to marvel at all the Museo de Bellas Artes has to offer.
- This museum is an absolute reference of the Sevillian Baroque: here you’ll find masterpieces of painters like Murillo, Zurbarán, Valdés Leal and others. But also in sculpture, with names like Juan de Mesa, Pedro de Mena or Pietro Torrigiano.
- It’s an old convent and a beautiful building with patios and beautiful rooms. In the old convent area, make sure to look up and admire its incredible ceiling.
- The 19th and early 20th century painting section, showcasing Andalusian scenes, is very attractive.
- There are a number of must-see works that I have listed below.
- The best option is to visit the rooms from the ground floor and then go up to the upper level, starting chronologically with the paintings and sculptures from the 15th century. The gallery (room V) devoted to Murillo is the old church of the convent.
- If you can, you should the visit it on Sunday morning because an art market takes place in the square outside the museum.
- I suggest you book a guided tour of the museum, it’s a totally different experience. It can be a general tour or a thematic route by painters or by themes, for example.
A little bit of history
In the 17th century, Spain underwent a spectacular flourishing in the arts, during the period known as the Siglo de Oro (Golden Century). And its best representation is the work of the Seville-born Diego de Silva y Velázquez. He is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of all time.
This Seville museum was inaugurated in 1835 with hundreds of masterpieces coming from convents and monasteries plundered by the Mendizabal liberal government. The original building was a convent founded in some lots Fernando III donated to San Pedro Nolasco after conquering Seville from the Moors.
The original building that you can visit today dates from 1602. The works started with the church’s construction. It was finished in 1612, whereas the rest of the premises were concluded almost 50 years later.
What to expect from the Museo de Bellas Artes
The building is one of the best examples of the Andalusian Mannerist style. Juan de Oviedo was the architect and sculptor who conceived the construction project, promoted by Fray Alonso de Monroy. The façade preserves the structure of the old convent that once was. The building is structured around three patios communicated by a great staircase and the church, located at one end of the convent.
The museum is divided into 14 rooms distributed in chronological order. Most of the works are religious themed, while the most modern works are separated from them.
In the first rooms you’ll see Seville’s medieval jewels. One of the great attractions is Room 5, the old convent church, currently dedicated to Murillo and the great masters who preceded him in the first half of the 17th century. The set of paintings that he made for the Iglesia del Convento sevillano de Capuchinos is truly amazing and the most important work that you can see in the museum.
Room 10 houses Zurbarán’s series of convent paintings and Room 8 the baroque compositions of Valdés Leal.
The typical Andalusian costumbrist paintings, with their cigar workers, bullfighting scenes, bandits and fairs are another great attraction of the museum. You’ll see this Andalusian paintings of the 19th and early 20th centuries in rooms 12, 13 and 14.
Masterpieces not to miss
The Museo de Bellas Artes is filled with works of art, and many of them, like the Zurbarán’s Saint Hugh In The Refectory, are downright masterpieces. It’s difficult to select among all the pieces on display but here are some you shouldn’t miss.
- The Annunciation by Alejo Fernández (1508). This beautiful painting is a masterpiece of the Sevillian Renaissance, with clear Italian but also Flemish influences. The semicircular arches frame the scene of the Annunciation and the characters (the Virgin and the archangel Gabriel). The work also presents strong symbolism, such as the lily symbolizing purity.
- Saint Hugo of Grenoble in the Carthusian Refectory (1650-1660). Zurbarán’s painting of a Carthusian refectory intensely reflects the ideal of this order of hermit monks: simplicity, sobriety and quiet contemplation. The room is unadorned, but for a painting showing the Virgin and Child with John the Baptist in the wilderness – an inspiration to the monks. An arched doorway opens out towards a typically simple Carthusian church.
- Saint Agnes by Zurbarán’s workshop (1640). It represents the sweetness and recollection of these young martyr. Agnes holds a lamb and is presented to us as if she stopped for a moment in her path to be immortalized in the painting. The cloths are worth mentioning, a technique that Zurbarán mastered like few other painters in history.
- The death of the bullfighter by José Villegas Cordero (1913). This highly dramatic scene represents the tragic moment that follows the death of a bullfighter in the bullring. The composition is distributed in two parts, the left half, where the deceased lies on the bed while a priest prays at the head, and the right half, where the dead bullfighter’s gang is distributed. The expression on the faces and attitudes of the members of the cuadrilla stands out, showing the desolation and desperation before the death of the master.
- Seville in Festivities by the Gustavo Bacarisas (1915). It’s one of the museum’s main works of modernist and impressionist influences. It represents three young girls from Seville prepared to enjoy the local festivities, dressed in the best clothes for the occasion. The author focuses the painting’s light on them to highlight the beauty of the Sevillian woman.
Museo de Bellas Artes guided visit
Wow, this guided visit has everything! You’ll meet your English speaking guide at the Museo de Bellas Artes main entrance.
As an art historian, he will be very knowledgeable and will use his insight to bring the beautiful art alive. First, he will explain you the importance of the square (Plaza del Museo) and the history of the old convent that houses the museum today.
Later on, he will also explain you in detail the best the museum has to offer, and gives you insights into the classic Sevilian painters and other 17th Century artists. The exquisite masterpieces of Velázquez, Murillo, Francisco de Herrera the younger and Zurbarán among others are waiting for you.