Arm Yourself for Luck – Figures of Bullfighting at the National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid

The end of the eighteenth century was the golden age of bullfighting and its artistic representation in Spain. Artists such as Francisco de Goya or Juan Cháez dealt with the subject and showed the glamour as well as the cruelty of this tradition.

The National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid currently shows an extraordinary group of sculptures by Juan Cháez. The figures depict scenes of bullfighting in 1790 and were conceived as a narrative series. They portray real bullfighters and reproduce the rich attire of the trade. The sculptures show how the bullfighters were dressed to fight – and how they spread death.

 

The National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid currently presents twenty-seven bullfighting figures by Juan Cháez

The National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid currently presents twenty-seven bullfighting figures by Juan Cháez

 

Getting dressed to fight

The title of the exhibition, „Armarse a la Suerte“ (engl. arm yourself for luck), refers figuratively to the ritual of preparing for the bullfight. „Armarse“ means getting dressed, to give ceremonial dignity to the gravity of the event, through wealth of clothing. The dedication of the bullfighter to the rich attire was the first act of this ritual festival, whose nucleus is „suerte“, the fate and the uncertainty.

 

The Museo Nacional de Escultura not only shows the process of restoration of the figures created by Juan Cháez, but also historical dresses of bullfighters

The Museo Nacional de Escultura not only shows the process of restoration of the figures created by Juan Cháez, but also historical clothing of bullfighters

 

A complex task of restoration

The figures created by Juan Cháez not only illustrate the rules of traditional bullfighting. In fact, they portray real and popular characters and conserve their stunning attire. The sculptural set, which combines polychrome wood and handmade tailoring, is the only known group of figures dedicated to the subject of bullfighting.

The National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid now presents the twenty-seven bullfighting figures of Juan Cháez for the first time, after a complex task of restoration. However, the exhibition seeks not only to exhibit the physical recovery of the sculptures. The museum also tries to explain the moment in Spanish society, when the philosophy of pleasure, the love of luxury and new forms of urban leisure emerged.

 

Collection of Spanish costumes, Juan de la Cruz (1734 – 1790), Museo Nacional de Escultura

The museum shows a gallery of prints of artisans, sellers and members of the higher society that congregated in the bullfighting arena

Collection of Spanish costumes, Juan de la Cruz (1734 – 1790), Museo Nacional de Escultura

 

A Visual Encyclopaedia

This bullfighting figures were created at the time, when Carlos IV began his reign on the eve of the French Revolution, whose outbreak put an end to the reformism of his father Carlos III. The artist who created the set of sculptures, Juan Cháez (1750 – 1809), frequented the same noble circles as Boccherini or Goya. Like them, Cháez was sensitive to popular life and tried to recreate this culture with his artworks. His bullfighting sculptures can be seen as „visual encyclopaedia“ of the fates of bullfighting.

 

Juan Cháez: Armarse a la Suerte

Museo Nacional de Escultura
Valladolid, Spain
02.12.2016 – 05.03.2017
Further information

 

Pictures: Angelika Schoder – Museo Nacional de Escultura, Valladolid 2016

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