La Muerte de Pepe Illo


Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes ( Spanish, 1746 - 1828 )

Madrid, 1816
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General Description

Francisco de Goya captures the drama and fury of the bullfight in La Muerte de Pépé Illo (The Death of Pépé Illo). During the 18th century, bullfighting evolved from an elitist diversion into a popular spectacle, and it figured prominently in Goya's life and work. He was an avid fan and even practiced bullfighting techniques in his youth. In his artwork Goya exploited the ritualistic aspects, aesthetic flourishes, and dramatic suspense of the sport.

Goya's Tauromaquia (Art of Bullfighting) was first published in 1816 as a suite of thirty-three prints. The third edition, printed in 1876, included seven additional prints (including this one), which Goya had etched on the reverse of the plates. These are the work of a mature artist. Though different from the biting social and political commentary of his earlier print series, Caprichos or Disasters of War, the Tauromaquia series forcefully explores the spectacle of life-and-death encounters in the bullring.

This print depicts a popular torero, Pépé Illo, in the Madrid plaza de toros at the moment of his defeat by the bull in 1801, a scene Goya may have witnessed but surely knew through the enormous publicity it engendered. Goya experimented with three variations on this dramatic death scene. Tense, frozen gestures of man and beast convey the terror and frenzy of the event. Goya's masterful manipulation of chiaroscuro emphasizes the drama of the encounter, ennobling both the torero and his powerful opponent.

Excerpt from

Melinda Klayman, "La Muerte de Pépé Illo", in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection,_ _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 98.

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