dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Manuel Tolsá

Although he is not well-known outside of Mexico, Manuel Tolsá was a leading architect and sculptor of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  He was born in Valencia, Spain, in 1757.  In Spain he gained a reputation for his work, and in 1790 he was named the director of sculpture of the newly established San Carlos Academy of Art in Mexico City.  The following year he sailed to Mexico (at that time the colony of New Spain) where he spent the rest of his life.  

Tolsá brought the neoclassical style of art and architecture to Mexico.  He designed numerous palaces and church altars.  He put the finishing touches to the Cathedral of Mexico by designing its dome and decorative features of the facade.  His architectural masterpiece is the "Palacio de Mineríá" which was built to house the School of Mining.

The building stands in the heart of downtown Mexico City.  Today it is owned by the engineering department of the National University of Mexico.  At one end of the "Palacio" is a small museum which i visited a couple days ago.  It honors the life and accomplishments of Tolsá.

The most famous sculpture by Tolsá has a long and interesting history.  He was commissioned to design an equestrian statue of Carlos IV, the King of Spain at that time.
It is the second largest bronze cast statue in the world, and is generally considered to be one of the world's greatest equestrian sculptures.  

                             A model of the equestrian statue in the Tolsá Museum

In 1803 the statue was unveiled at its original location on Mexico City's main plaza in front of the Cathedral.

However after Mexico won its independence, anti-Spanish sentiment was strong.  It was feared that the statue would be damaged or destroyed.  So in 1821 it was moved to a more secure location in the courtyard of the University.

In 1852 it was considered safe to place the sculpture in public view again.  It was put in a location that eventually became a busy intersection along the Paseo de la Reforma.  That is where I remember it from my first visits to Mexico City.

(image from the web)
The statue became popularly known as "El Caballito" - "The Little Horse" - as if to say, "we don't care for King Carlos, but it's a nice sculpture of the horse."

In 1979 "El Caballito" made its final trip when it was moved to the elegant plaza between the "Palacio de MinerIa" and the National Museum of Art.  Unfortunately in 2013 a company was hired to clean the statue.  They used an acid that corroded a large portion of the sculpture. At first it was said that the damage was irreparable, but later the government said that "El Caballito" could be restored.  A scaffold and fabric were put around the statue.  That was three years ago, and "El Caballito" still remains under wraps.



  1. I was found (and bought) an old postcard from the 70s or 80s in a street market showing the statue sitting in the middle of Reforma. I learned a fair bit of my Mexico City history from postcards...!

    1. I agree. It's fascinating to look at old photos of places that you know.