Discussion about bullfighting in museum the Hermitage Amsterdam

Wednesday, March 9th 2016

osé Villegas Cordero (1844–1921). Het afscheid van de torero, 1880 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg José Villegas Cordero (1844–1921). Torero's Farewell, 1880 © State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

In the museum the Hermitage Amsterdam there is an exposition ‘Spanish Masters’ until May 29. Several master pieces exhibit elements of Spanish culture through time. Some attention is given to the theme bullfighting by art objects as well as in a video. CAS International received several complaints about this by visitors to the museum.

CAS went to the museum and visited the exhibition together with the curator. There is one hall with art object related to bullfighting and another hall with a video that shows a part of the documentary Romance de Valentía (1993). The starting years of bullfighter Enrique Ponce feature in this video. The film offers an optimistic image of bullfighting: the bull is granted pardon, the public shouts with joy and the bullfighter is enthusiastic because the life of the bull is spared. In reality, it is very uncommon that a bull survives a bullfight. For this reason we think that this video is not showing a realistic image of bullfighting. In fact, it more resembles a promotion video for the bullfighting sector. Furthermore, this is the only theme in the entire exhibition that has been covered in depth by a video and we think it is a shame that a more suitable theme has not been featured. Spain has very interesting themes to offer. We think that the controversial aspects of bullfighting were not sufficiently covered.

After the guided tour we had a conversation with the curator about the video. The curator emphasizes that it was not the intention of the museum to promote bullfighting, nor to make a statement about this subject. The video was solely meant to offer a cultural context to bullfighting.

We asked the Hermitage to remove the video of the documentary Romance de Valentía. In the end, the museum did not remove it, but made sure the text describing the video was adjusted. It is now made clear that this subject is under discussion in Spanish society and that some people consider it to be a cruel spectacle.

Although we think it is a pity the video is still on display, we are thankful for the alterations made to the text. We want to thank all the persons who notified us about the video of the exhibition. Some people were unpleasantly surprised by the film. We want to warn you for this, if you are planning to visit ‘Spanish Masters’.

We also want to thank the Hermitage for the guided tour, the conversation we had about the exhibition and the change the museum has made.


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