Convent of Las Descalzas Reales

Madrid, Spain

The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, literally the 'Monastery of the Royal Barefooted', resides in the former palace of Emperor Charles V and Empress Isabel of Portugal. Their daughter, Joanna of Austria, founded this convent of nuns of the Poor Clare order in 1559. Throughout the remainder of the 16th century and into the 17th century, the convent attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen. Each woman brought with her a dowry. The riches quickly piled up, and the convent became one of the richest convents in all of Europe. Tomás Luis de Victoria, Spain's finest Renaissance composer, worked at the convent from 1587 to the end of his life in 1611.

The demographics of the convent slowly changed over time, and by the 20th century, all of the sisters were in poverty. The convent maintained the riches of its past, but it was forbidden to auction any of the items off or spend any of the money it received from the dowries. The state intervened when it saw that the sisters were poor, and the pope granted a special dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960.

Museum

While in the past, the treasures of the monastery were not visible, today the monastery houses only a few nuns, and the site is a well-visited national monument. The noblewomen's dowries were often invested into relics and their bejeweled exhibition pieces. Among the many relics on display are putatively pieces from Christ's cross and the bones of Saint Sebastian. Among the priceless art masterpieces are Titian's Caesar's Money, tapestries woven to designs by Rubens, and works by Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder.

The museum collection also includes such rarities as portraits of royal children of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from the late 16th century, referring to Polish–Spanish relations that inspired Calderón's La vida es sueño. Portraits of the son and daughter of King Sigismund of Poland were painted by Martin Kober in 1596 and were sent as a gift to King Philip III of Spain.

The Church

The original architect of the church was Antonio Sillero. The facade was designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo in 1559; who also helped in the roofing of the church. Parts of the altar, choir, and sacristy, were designed by Juan Gómez de Mora in 1612. Gaspar Becerra in 1562 completed the main retablo of the altar, which was considered his master work. Unfortunately, this retablo was destroyed by fire in 1862, along with many of the paintings and frescoes by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz.

In 1863 the altar was replaced by one commissioned in 1716 by Philip V of Spain to commemorate the beatification of the French Jesuit John Francis Regis, including canvases by Michel-Ange Houasse. It has a sculpted relief of the Apotheosis of Juan Francisco Régis, by Camillo Rusconi. The lateral panels were sculpted by Jose Bellver. The recumbent statue of the Jesuit was sculpted by Agostino Cornacchini. A chapel contains the marble statue of Joanna of Austria at prayer, by either Pompeo Leoni or Crescenci.

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Details

Founded: 1559
Category: Religious sites in Spain

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Kathy Redmon (54 days ago)
Beautiful place with amazing art and history. The Rubens tapestries are not to be missed. I just would have liked more time here. The 1 hour tour doesn’t give you time to really absorb and examine the art and religious objects.
Joseph Briffa (3 months ago)
The monastery is amazing with beautiful art everywhere. Our guide spoke slowly and clearly in Spanish, making it very easy to understand everything that he was saying, even though our knowledge of Spanish is limited. He was knowledgeable and gave an excellent explanation throughout the tour.
RiRi M (4 months ago)
if you love yourself, do NOT come here. you are forced to take a tour, only offered in spanish (which i speak, but does not matter as the guide has to be the most monotone, boring person i have ever come across). beyond that, it is a full hour of torture where you are not allowed to take a singular picture, which has no reasoning that could make any sense as it isn't like it is to protect paintings from potential flash since they are being decayed by the sunlight that comes in either way. beyond those things, this tour had my autistic brother on the verge of a mental breakdown as there was a lady who wasn't a guide and whose only job seemed to be to ensure everyone knew that they were being watched and were unwelcome visitors. as my brother is autistic, he would try and look at paintings when there wasn't a crowd surrounding the area, but the moment the tour guide moved on this woman would turn out the lights and not allow him to view the artworks. there was also seating in a couple rooms, but nobody was allowed to sit for a singular moment on the gruelling hour-long tour, causing me personally immense back pain for the rest of the busy day, cannot imagine how bad it was for those who were more elderly on the tour. all in all, it is a beautiful place, but as i have a permanent brain injury i always take pictures of what i enjoy so i can freshen my memory due to it deteriorating without, so the entire event was a waste of money as it left me with back pain, my brother needing hours to recover from his near-mental breakdown, and i not being able to keep a single memory for the coming years. if you can avoid this, i do not say this lightly as i have travelled across 60+ countries and have NEVER felt so upset by a museum or tour: AVOID AVOID AVOID !!!!!!
Christophe Monéger (5 months ago)
Beautiful place to visit full of history. The tour last for approximately 1h. However, the guided tour was not the most exciting I had and the person assisting the group was a bit rude. Also, no pictures are allowed inside. You need to book long time in advance as it is always sold out. If you have the time and occasion, it worth a visit but it is definitely not a priority to visit in Madrid.
Kylli Kell (6 months ago)
A magnificent historical and architectural object. The house is full of special paintings, icons, sculptures and samples of different chapels. An overview of the life and activities of Joan of Austria (1535-1573), the founder of this monastery. Entrance in small groups and only with a guide, which is why it is worth buying a ticket in advance. Photography is not allowed!
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