Cerralbo Museum Grand Staircase

The grand staircase at the Cerralbo Museum

A manse meant to impress

By Geri Dreiling

It was a museum Sunday. While visiting Madrid in January, E and I toured the Museo Sorolla and the Museo Cerralbo on the same day – with a break for tapas in between. In addition to collections of art, the small museums offered a glimpse into turn-of-the-20th-century Spain from the artistic and aristocratic viewpoint.

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, the orphaned painter from Valencia, built a home in Madrid influenced by his travels that was meant to nourish creativity.

Living in Madrid at about the same time was Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo. An aristocrat, politician, art collector and archaeologist,  de Aguilera built a mega mansion – or miniature palace –between 1883 and 1893 to display art he had collected during his extensive travels as well as archaeological finds and family heirlooms.

Cerralbo Museum Full Staircase

A fuller view of the grand staircase at the Cerralbo Museum


Cerralbo Museum armor

The Museum of Arms at the Cerralbo

As E observed, it was a mansion that was meant to impress. If I had been ushered into the home in 1900 for a meeting or a ballroom dance, it would have been hard not to be awed by the lavish artwork, the ornate floors and stunning chandeliers. 

Ornate wood flooring at the Cerralbo

One floor design at the Cerralbo Museum


Mirrored view of the Cerralbo

Mirrored reflection of multiple rooms at the Cerralbo.


Ballroom at the Cerralbo Museum

The ballroom at the Cerralbo


Ballroom chandelier at the Cerralbo

One of the many magnificent Cerralbo Museum chandeliers

Although the guest areas were intricately ornate and packed with beautiful items, the actual living spaces occupied by the family austere in comparison. The differences between the family dining room and the formal dining room illustrate this dual approach.

Cerralbo family dining room

Family dining room at the Cerralbo Museum


Formal dining room at the Cerralbo Museum

Formal dining room at the Cerralbo Museum

There are many grand spaces but I was delighted with a small bench situated next to the window overlooking the garden in the part of the house the family inhabited during the summer.

Bench sitting next to balcony opening

A bench in front of balcony doors overlooking the Cerralbo garden


Cerralbo Museum Garden

The courtyard garden, Cerralbo Museum

Although I haven’t researched the question of whether Enrique de Aguilera and Joaquin Sorolla knew each other, my guess is that they did. Not only did they live in Madrid at about the same time, the two men died a year apart. Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa died in 1922 and Joaquin Sorolla died in 1923.

In his will, Enrique de Aguilera donated all of his archaeological and paleontological findings to the National Archaeological Museum and the National Museum of Natural Science. His will also created what would become the Museo Cerralbo which contained his home and art collection.

Painting by El Greco

Painting by El Greco

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm. On Thursdays, it is open from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm. On Sundays and holidays, it is open from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. When we visited, the cost was three euros per person.

Visually stunning and even somewhat overwhelming, the Sunday tour was worth the entrance fee for the chance to view the eclectic art collection and admire the architectural design. It was also an opportunity to travel back in time to see how the upper class lived.

Have you visited the Museo Cerralbo? Would you recommend it as a travel stop?

Cerralbo Museum Entrance

A line forms outside the Cerralbo Museum entrance