Prado art museum in Madrid uses perfume in eccentric new exhibition

Perfumed paintings at the Prado in new exhibition

Credit: Wikimedia

A new exhibition at The Prado Museum in Madrid, will combine perfume and paintings for the ultimate sensory experience.

“The Sense of Smell” is a painting by Jan Brueghel and Rubens, painted as part of the series The Five Senses, between 1617 and 1618, which is now part of an exhibition named The Essence of a Painting at The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain which will allow visitors to not only see the painting but smell it.

This ground-breaking approach, of experiencing paintings through smell, has seen Prado experts join forces with The Spanish Perfume Academy and the Puig Group, whose fragrances include Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne and Jean Paul Gaultier. 

This unique exhibition which will be held until 3 July, was first conceived in July 2021 and led by Alejandro Vergara, Head of Conservation of Flemish paintings and Northern Schools at the National Prado Museum in Madrid, and Gregorio Sola, Senior Perfumer at the Puig group and member of the Academy of Perfume.

Their research involved finding out what types of plants were represented in the painting, then researching perfume formulas from the 17th century, when the painting was created.

“Botanical studies emerged in Antwerp in the 16th century, which is why Brueghel was faced with incredible demands when it came to painting. He had to be absolutely reliable,” explained Vergara at the press conference to open the exhibition.

Thanks to research carried out by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the curators were able to find the name of the plants found in the painting. In the bouquet alone, there are up to eight varieties of roses and four varieties of lilies. The Florentine Iris will be one of those used in the exhibition.

Sola stated that he considers his work to be almost “Perfume archaeology”: Searching for ancient formulas through 18th century French treatises, he came across some compositions which, in the opinion of both curators, describe Brueghel’s bucolic scene perfectly . 

“Bringing two arts together is not only a luxury, it’s a stroke of luck”, explained Sola.

“When you smell something at the same time you see it, you remember it much more”.

People who go to see the exhibition will find Brueghel’s work in the centre of the room, with his other paintings to the rights, and to the left several individual tactile booths from which to enjoy the details of the ten aromas that have been created for the occasion. The diffusers are equipped with AirParfum technology (developed by Puig), which allow visitors to smell up to 100 different fragrances without saturating their sense of smell by eliminating alcohols from the formulas.

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Written by

Joshua Manning

Originally from the UK, Joshua is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at