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

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Cristina Giordano (19 months ago)
Surely a place to visit if you stay several days in Madrid, the tapestry are magnificent if you think how old are them and the work needed to be done. However not recommended if you're in a hurry because, at least in the weekend, you need to be long ahead the suggested time to be on the top of the queue and be sure you're among the first 20. They only received groups of 20 people at the time, with break of 30 minutes or so. Also, better to check the English tour in advance because most of them are in Spanish. I went there on a Friday afternoon, arrived at 3 pm for the 4 pm tour (in Spanish) and the queue behind me was very long!
Joscelyn Blumenthal (19 months ago)
Another real gem in Madrid; definitely see this monastery if you’re an art lover. Unique and well worth a visit. Buy a ticket early on weekends
Love Light (21 months ago)
There are wonderful collections in such a small space as compared to larger museums. If you are in area, this is a must see. Definitely recommend! However you can not just walk on your own. Must be in an hour guided tour which is given only in Spanish or French...
Peter Hunt (2 years ago)
The place itself is wonderful, with some the finest tapestries I have ever seen. Some excellent paintings, some rather average. N.B. Can only go in on guided tour, and the day I went they only were in Spanish, so I got a bit bored. Also not allowed to sit down even though there are wooden benches, too precious for paying visitors bottoms! But the tapestries are worth these hardships!!
Olga Martynova (2 years ago)
I would recommend this visit only to people deeply interested in religion. Rooms are dark, air is thick and warm, no toilets, no benches for older people. Only guided visits, Sundays all 7 guided groups were only in Spanish. Totally agree to people saying that 1 hour for a tour is too long. Come early and buy a ticket for a tour later that day. On a Sunday around 11am we did not have to wait in line, purchased the tickets for the tour at 12:45.
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