Saturday, March 29, 2014

Près des remparts de Séville - Part II

I have never been a fan of any type blood sport however - you knew there was going to be a however didn't you? - whither I approve/like/accept it or not bullfighting has been a integral part of Spanish culture for several centuries. This does not make it either right or palatable - I went to a bullfight in Arles in the South of France many years ago.  Following the traditions of Provence it was not to the death but I still found it rather unsettling.  There are  things in many cultures that I don't approve of, but that as a visitor I must simply accept as being a fact of history.   While visiting Sevilla I could simply ignore the whole bullfighting phenomena or take a look at it and try and understand where and why it fits into the culture of the country.

The Coat of Arms of Real Maestranza De Caballería de
:  the Goddess of Peace and the Goddess of War
flank the motto Utriusque Interest - it matters to both.
As unusual as it may seem to us the annual season of bullfighting is administered by a Royal Society:    Real Maestranza De Caballería de Sevilla (The Royal Order of Chivalry) The first Brotherhood was established as Cofradía de San Hermenegildo shortly after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand the Saint in 1248.  The Order was created for the purpose of training the nobility in the use of arms and equestrian skills.   Their stables bred some of the finest mares and colts in Andalusia - trained for military action and civilian sport and leisure.   Even in those early days the Order organized public events in the main squares of Sevilla to celebrate feast days, commemorations and Royal visits

In 1670 it was reestablished under its current title and in 1730 came under the symbolic leadership of a member of the Royal Family - King Juan Carlos I,  is the current Hermano Mayor which rather whimsically translates as Big or Elder Brother of the order.  Amongst the equestrian festivals the Order organized were annual games of Alcancias (a military exercise), Manejos (dressage) and Toros y Cañas (Bulls and Lances).  It is the later that was the precursor of modern day bullfighting.

An early French print shows the make-shift set up of the bullring when it was indeed simply a converted Plaza.

Early bullfights were meant as displays of equestrian abilities and took place in public squares rather than in a designated arena.  Streets were blocked off with fences and carts,  stands erected and balconies around the square hung with banners and tapestries.  It was not until the early 1700s that a permanent wooden structure was considered for the annual season of bullfighting.  It was a rectangle styled after the squares that had been the sites of previous seasons.  Later in the century in was replaced by another wooden building but this time in a circular shape.  By mid-century the area had become built up with additional stone buildings accommodating stables, butcher shops and warehouses - these stone buildings were to affect the design of the building seen today.

The bullring of the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla in 1837 as seen by David Roberts.  Though the boxes adjacent to the Prince's Box were roofed-over it was still possible to see the Cathedral and the Giralda from many of the stands.

A more permanent stone structure was begun in 1761 and over the years changed and added to until in 1785 Carlos III prohibited bullfights.  For the next 60 years little was done in the way of maintenance or building until in 1841 construction and restoration began again.  It was to continue until 1972 when the old warehouse under the stands were converted into a broad circular corridor and the museum and art gallery.

The facade of the Plaza del Toros is an 19th century interpretation  of baroque;
as a result of being built, reconstructed and added to over 120 years the building has 30 unequal sides. 

And it was the museum and gallery that we decided to explore to find the story and traditions  behind  bullfighting in Spain and more particularly Sevilla.  The Museum is small but beautifully set up and the guides are charming and more than willing to answer questions and talk about the "sport".  They seem to be sensitive to the feelings of non-aficionados - particularly North Americans.  No apologies were being given but every attempt was made to place things in a historical and cultural context so that though we may not approve at least we were able to understand how it fit into life there.

Guillermo Muñoz Vera's
2014 Poster
Bullfighting has been a popular subject for lithographers, painters and photographers so it didn't seem unusual that there is also an art gallery as an element of the museum.  Back in 1994 painter Juan Maestre, who was also a caballero with the Order, launched a project to commission artists to design the posters for the major Feria de Abril season.  Since then well-known foreign and Spanish artists such as Larry Rivers, Fernando Botero,  Joaquín Sáenz, Ricardo Cadenas, Manuel Salinas, Félix de Cárdenas amongst others have created the images that advertise the two weeks that are the most important of the year.  The wide range of artists and styles have meant that posters have ranged from the whimsical to the reverential to the outright (in my view) bizarre.  And in some cases it is possible that the artist is subtly criticizing his patrons.  

Unfortunately the rather intriguing piece created by Guillermo Muñoz Vera for this year's Feria is only available as a small image.  Muñoz Vera is known for his realism and often a sense of disturbing melancholy.  I may be reading too much into it but I do find the looming shadow of the bull facing the empty stands unsettling.

A click on the rather science-fantasy image of the bull below will take you to a retrospect of the past 20 years of colourful posters.

I have to admit one of my favourites is the 2007 poster by Manolo Quejido - not the most confident of matadors from the looks of it.

March 29 - 1867: Queen Victoria gives Royal Assent to the British North America Act which establishes the Dominion of Canada on July 1.

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1 comment:

Ur-spo said...

The one and only time I was in a debate class I had to debate the merits of bullfighting. I forgot what I did, although I got an A. I don't wish to ever see one.