The History of Bullfighting

The modern day bullfight is quite a different art from the chivalric one which was practiced from the 16th to 18th Centuries, and which was consisted of mixing different military bullfighting exercises whilst on horseback.  This type of bullfighting was done principally to celebrate royal births, weddings or other important events.

At the same time, dismounted bullfights were held, the many different stages of which are immortalized in Goya’s Tauromaquia (on show in the Museum).

Back then, it was also common in Andalusia for cowboys and farm workers to carry out different chores on horseback, which turned into something of a crowd-pleasing spectacle in some parts of the region and these displays planted the seed for modern day bullfights.

All of these things have led to the bullfight being the spectacle it is today. The first bullfighter to become well known as such can be traced back to the 18th Century, Francisco Romero. Costillares and Pepe-Hillo also stand out, the latter being the author of the book Bullfighting or the Art of Bullfighting in which all of the different stages carried out back then are captured. If there is something which characterizes bullfighting back then, it is its heterogeneous nature, depending on the city or even the exact moment in question.

In the 19th century bullfighting made way for fundamental innovations such as it being divided into three parts, a third with sticks, a third with banderillas and a third with the red cape.  This division has proved to be long-lasting as modern day bullfights have the same structure, as well as featuring six bulls.  It was also in the 19th century when bullfighting started to be thought of as an artistic practice, and the search for an aesthetic appeal became important. 

A key phase in bullfighting’s history took place between 1912 and 1920, when modern bullfighting was born.  Two figures in particular stand out; Gallito who laid the foundations for the development of the modern bullfight “in the round”, and Juan Belmonte, who brought two essential elements to the fore, provoking the bull from a much shorter distance than had ever been done before, and lengthening the stages.  Bullfighting started to be thought of as a real art form.

However, the most meaningful characteristic which can be attributed to that time is without doubt the tendency to stylize the bullfight, the execution of the stages in the most perfect and aesthetically pleasing way possible, typically seen in bullfights where short daggers are used, the feet are placed together, and there is a wealth of adornments.

In the 1940s, bullfighting became even more splendid with the appearance of a key figure in the history of this magnificent art form: Manolete. His style, elegant and vertical, changed the art of using the now famed red cape in the spectacle, fighting head on and provoking the bull from the side.  His influence has been enormous, something which is easy to see in the way his contemporaries performed.

In the 1950s, Pepe Luis Vázquez, Luis Miguel Dominguín, Manolo González, Julio Aparicio, Miguel Báez Litri, Antonio Ordoñez, Manolo Vázquez y Antoñete stood out for their brilliance, amongst others.

In the 60s and 70s, Diego Puerta, Paco Camino, El Viti, Curro Romero, Rafael de Paula, Palomo Linares, José María Manzanares, Paco Ojeda, Espartaco,  Paquirri y Ortega Cano, stand aside the social phenomenon, El Cordobés, as being the most important bullfighters of their time.

In the following decades right up until the present day, many bullfighters, with their different styles and personal stamps, have modified the idea and structure of the bullfight, and the way that the stages are carried out.

Nowdays the bullfighter continues to mould this artistic expression, and irrefutable proof that cultural traditions evolve and adapt themselves to the demands of modern times, resulting in a rigorous and aesthetically beautiful bullfight, a display of taurine sentiment.