(b. 1739, Madrid. d. 1811, Madrid)


Spanish architect, part of a family of artists, the son of the sculptor Juan de Villanueva (1681-1765). His brother, the architect Diego de Villanueva (1715-1774) was his protector and teacher. Along with Ventura Rodríguez, Juan de Villanueva stood at the turning point between two eras, the absolutism of the Baroque and the beginning of the Enlightenment, Their work was seen as embodying the architectural idiom as it was handed down by the Academia de San Fernando.

Juan de Villanueva was the key figure in the spread of Neoclassical trends in Spanish architecture. As court architect to Charles III and Charles IV, he was responsible for redesigning the royal sites of El Escorial, El Pardo, and Buen Retiro and for royal endowments for Prado Museum and the Observatory.

His twenty-five year career as architect in the Spanish capital began when he was appointed 'arquitecto maestro mayor de Madrid' in 1786; in these years the city was given a new face. Commissioned by the palace, he first built the colonnade for the Casas de Ayuntamiento and reconstructed the Plaza Mayor, which had been destroyed by fire. He controlled the projects for numerous public buildings in Madrid. However, the construction of the Museo del Prado, and the Observatory were to be of greater significance for the history of art: both were royal endowments and anticipated Enlightenment values, as well as being major achievements of Neo-classicism in Spain.

Villanueva's influence and his many brilliant buildings demonstrate the final move away from the Baroque principles of structure in Spanish architecture. He proved to be both a forerunner of the Enlightenment and also an early practitioner of revival styles.