{Spain} Taking the Bull by the Horns

May 17, 2016


100 Museums Challenge: Museum No.48

Museo Taurino 01

I’m not a fan or supporter of bull fighting. Quite the opposite. So when I read about Museo Taurino – the Bullfighting Museum – during my research on unusual museums in Madrid, I was a bit torn about whether to go or not. But then I came across this quote by Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset:

“The history of bullfighting is so closely connected to the history of Spain that it would be impossible to understand the latter without knowing the former.”

Visiting the museum felt, in a way, like I was condoning the practice of bullfighting. But then again, taking José Ortega y Gasset’s words to heart, I thought, maybe the museum was a place where some of this understanding could happen. In the end, my curiosity won out, though at the point of writing this I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision.

Museo Taurino 02

The museum is located round the back of Plaza de Toros de Ronda, Madrid’s bullfighting ring. Photography is strictly forbidden within the museum, which is why I can only show you photos of the outside of the building and the plaza around it. They even went as far as making me check in my mobile phone along with my backpack, since it has an integrated camera. However, I also use my mobile phone to take notes, so later went back to retrieve my old-school notebook and pen from my backpack. I explained I needed them to write down a few interesting things I wanted to remember, and when I was leaving at the end of my visit, the lady at the ticket desk gave me a copy of an old museum catalogue as a gift, which includes an English section with some more info about the museum’s history and some of the collection highlights. So that was nice of her.

Museo Taurino 03

One thing you come to understand quite quickly, when you walk through the museum – or actually, already when you walk around outside and see the statues dedicated to certain bullfighters (see below) – is that in Spain, bullfighters are treated as much as celebrities as sportsmen in any other sport. They are much revered heroes. The words used to describe them in the exhibition included brave, courageous, honourable, acclaimed for his charisma and bravery, spectacular and powerful, unparalleled in his sense of honour and respect, having a pristine elegant quality of his craft or brilliant intuition, displaying prowess and decisiveness, a strong inspiration, an icon for aspiring bullfighters. A large portion of the exhibition is devoted to paintings and portraits of ‘the greats’ – prominent and important bullfighters throughout Spain’s history. How they lived, how they died, what their major achievements were. Like Francisco Arjona <<Cúchares>> (1818 – 1868) who “never suffered an injury in the ring, due to his command and knowledge of the bulls.” Alongside paintings of actual bullfighting scenes, drawings, engravings – including a series of Goya’s Tauromaquia, sculptures, historic documents such as a Papal Bull Decree against bullfighting, by Pope Pius V, and colourfully illustrated bullfighting posters from the 18th century.

Museo Taurino 06

Another large portion of the exhibition is devoted to the bullfighters’ costumes. Whatever your opinion of bullfighting may be, these are, without a doubt beautiful. The ornate embroidery is undeniably exquisite. I just couldn’t get my head past what they had been used for. Exemplified no better than through the  famous ‘death costume’ of the bullfighter known as Manolete (1917 – 1947), which he wore when he was gored to death at age 30 in Linares’s bullring in Southern Spain.

Museo Taurino 04

So yes, Museo Taurino does give you a solid introduction to the history of bullfighting. Over 150 pieces, arranged largely chronologically, are waiting for you to be discovered. Many pieces on display were donated by the great masters themselves.  You will get to know the bullfighting heroes, learn the difference between a matador and a torrero, take in some of the most extraordinary events in bullfighting’s legacy, and marvel at artwork and costumes. It is, without doubt, a fascinating insight in to this quintessentially Spanish sport. But it also remains a rather dark sport. You are reminded of this, when you go down to the room where film footage is screened in a small cinema setting. As I entered, the clips were showing bullfighters demonstrating their techniques. I cautiously sat down and watched for a while. Then the clips suddenly changed, and after a few minutes of seeing bullfighters tossed about and gored, I had to leave. The two elderly Spanish couples sitting in front of me seemed unfazed. Judging by their gestures, pointing at the screen, and tone of voice, they seemed to be discussing the performances (since I don’t speak Spanish I could only hazard a guess).

Museo Taurino 05

I didn’t grow up in Spain. Bullfighting is not part of my culture. So I find it impossible to identify with this sport in any way. But I don’t want to judge anyone who does. I just know that bullfighting is definitely not for me. By all means, if you find yourself in Madrid, stop by Museo Taurino. Immerse yourself in this definitive part of Spanish history and cultures. Just be warned, that your visit may make you feel very uncomfortable.

Museo Taurino 08

Museo Taurino is open during bullfighting season (March – October), Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30am – 2:30pm and Sundays & festival days from 10am – 1pm. Out of season (November – February) hours are Mon-Fri, 9:30am-2:30pm, and our of season (November – February) on weekdays from 9:30am – 2:30pm. Though opening times seem to vary, depending what site you look up, so you may want to double check before heading there.

Museo Taurino 09

, ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply