The Power of Goya's 'La Tauromaquia'

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La Tauromaquia, a set of 33 prints etched by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes in 1815 and 1816, illustrates the art of bullfighting from its medieval origins through to the artist’s day. In the final plates in the series, Goya illustrated the awe-inspiring feats of his contemporaries, recording or imagining actual events in the bullring and paying homage to the most celebrated toreros of his time. Click the image above to view the slideshow.

The Power of Goya's 'La Tauromaquia'

  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 18: ‘The daring of Martincho in the ring at Zaragoza’
    In plate 18 of the Tauromaquia, Goya depicts the famous yet mysterious bullfighter known as Martincho, remembered for his brazen and often acrobatic stunts. In this scene at Zaragoza, where Goya would have seen him as a young man, Martincho sits, shackled, on a chair, poised fearlessly as his adversary bursts through the gate of the arena.
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 19: ‘Another madness of his in the same ring’
    The subsequent plate in the Tauromaquia illustrates another incredible feat carried out by Martincho. Robert Hughes provides a thrilling description of the scene: ‘There [Martincho] is in the middle of the ring, standing on a cloth-draped table with no visible weapon at all… his feet are bound together—not even with a chain, which permits them some movement, but with a rigid bar, which allows none. A bull is charging at him, and he seems tensed to jump on top of it. Clearly Martincho can’t get away from the bull, since he can’t run, and he won’t be able to ride the brute, since he can’t open his legs. He has no choice, it seems, but to be trampled and gored, unless he manages to leap clear over the animal’s back—which, according to the traditions of the ritual, is just what he is poised to do, leg irons and all.’
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 20: ‘The agility and audacity of Juanito Apiñani in the ring at Madrid’
    In this iconic composition, Goya portrays Juanito Apiñani, who was active in the Zaragoza and Madrid arenas in the mid eighteenth century and was therefore most likely known to Goya as a young man. The artist pictures the bullfighter here suspended over the back of a charging bull, having seemingly just cleared his horns.
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 24: ‘The same Ceballos mounted on another bull breaks short spears in the ring at Madrid’
    This dynamic composition represents a torero from Peru named Mariano Ceballos. The bullfighter’s loco valor (demented bravery) is made evident here in Goya’s depiction of his most legendary trick: confronting one bull whilst astride the back of another.
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 21: ‘Dreadful events in the front rows of the ring at Madrid and death of the mayor of Torrejón’
    Here Goya depicts the tragic impalement of the mayor of Torrejón, a spectator in the stands of the Madrid bullring in 1801. This image has been described as the one closest to modernism within the Tauromaquia, ‘because of the naked power with which Goya has played off void against solid, black against light, empty space against full…’ Robert Hughes continues: ‘The lower right quarter is jammed with shapes of people darting hither and thither in panic. One’s gaze shifts in this melée between huge, blunt shapes and tiny poignant ones—for instance, the miniscule detail, which you do not see at first, of the mayor’s shoe protruding beneath the bull’s neck, a reminder of the vulnerability of human life in the face of so powerful a killing machine.’
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 30: ‘Pedro Romero killing the halted bull’
    The celebrated Pedro Romero, pictured in this plate in a sun-drenched arena, was the bullfighter whom Goya was personally closest to. Romero came from an illustrious line of toreros; in fact, his grandfather Francisco had implemented the muleta – the short cape used to obscure the sword, thereby allowing the bullfighter to confront the bull on foot. As Pierre Gassier and Juliet Wilson-Bareau describe, in this plate: ‘The classical restraint and dignity of Pedro Romero contrasts with the spectacular style of toreros like Martincho … Here Romero performs his most famous feat, the suerte de matar, standing alone with the animal in the ring.’
  • © SUCCESSION PICASSO/DACS 2019
    Plate 33: ‘The unlucky death of Pepe Illo in the ring at Madrid’
    José Delgado Guerra, known as Pepe Illo in the arena, was one of the leading matadors of the Goya’s time. Illo championed the idea that the exuberance and bravado of the bullfighter trumped technical accuracy. It is therefore unsurprising that Illo was seriously injured thirteen times during his career before the fatal scene depicted in this work. The event occurred in May 1801, when a bull named Badubo gored the matador with its right horn. ‘It caused a great impression at the time,’ according to Gassier and Wilson-Bareau, ‘and Queen Maria Luisa, who was amongst those present, gave a blood-curdling description of the tossing and goring of the unfortunate matador.’
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