dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Return of the King

Last year I wrote a post about the bronze, equestrian statue known as "El Caballito" (The Little Horse) which has long been a landmark in Mexico City.

I will briefly summarize again the history of this statue.  It dates back to the early 1800s when Mexico was still a colony of Spain.  It portrays Carlos IV, the King of Spain at that time, on horseback.  It was designed by Manuel Tolsá, a Spanish-born architect, engineer and sculptor who changed the face of Mexico City during the late colonial period.  The monument was placed on the city's main plaza in 1803, and was acclaimed as one of the finest equestrian statues in the world.

When Mexico won its independence, anti-Spanish sentiment was running high, and there were calls to melt the statue down.  There were those who recognized its artistic merit, however, and it was literally hidden away for several decades.  In 1852 it was finally brought out of hiding and erected along what would eventually become the Paseo de la Reforma, the city's most elegant boulevard.  It became nicknamed "El Caballito", because even though the Mexicans had no desire to honor the Spanish monarchy, they did appreciate the beauty of the bronze horse.

In 1979 the statue was moved again, away from the traffic of the Paseo de la Reforma.  It was placed on the Plaza Tolsá in front of the National Museum of Art.  In 2013 a company was contracted to clean the statue, but the company botched the job and used a corrosive nitric acid concentrate that damaged the metal.  Ever since then, "El Caballito" has been under wraps, surrounded with scaffolding and covered with fabric while preservationists tried to determine if the damage could be repaired.

My friend Alejandro told me that the statue had finally been restored, and was once again on view.  So, when I went downtown on Wednesday I made it a point to wander over to the Plaza Tolsá.  And yes, there he was... Carlos IV, looking like some Roman emperor atop his steed.


Just who was Carlos IV of Spain?

Image from the web
Portrait of Carlos IV by Goya

Carlos was probably one of the most inept kings in Spain's history.  He occupied himself with hunting and left the affairs of state to his queen and her favorites.  He was not up to the task of navigating his nation through the perilous events of Napoleonic Europe, and he was forced to abdicate and go into exile when Napoleon invaded Spain.

It always seemed ironic to me that one of Spain's worst kings should have such a beautiful monument.  But then I read something about Carlos that puts him in a better light.  The king had an interest in scientific research and authorized the world's first immunization campaign in 1803.  He had the newly developed smallpox vaccine shipped to Mexico and the other Spanish colonies.  In Mexico alone more than 100,000 children were vaccinated.   When you consider the lives that were saved through this campaign, perhaps old Carlos does deserve that monument!

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