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“El Caballito” is not without irony. Mexico City residents are not being affectionate when calling it the “Little Pony” or the “Little Horseman.” It’s nothing like other important monuments in the city. And in all the world, it’s still the second largest cast bronze statue.
Manuel Tolsá’s equestrian portrait of Charles IV began with a 1796 commission from the Viceroy of New Spain, Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca. With permission from Madrid, work began. A pedestal was built in the Zócalo. Bullfights and parties were held on December 8, 1796. That was seven years before the work could be unveiled.
Tolsá worked with Salvador de la Vega who’d cast many of the largest bells in Metropolitan Cathedral. The Foundry was at the Colegio de San Gregorio, and the statue was painstakingly moved to the seven-year-old pedestal. That was 1803. The 1,600-meter move took five days on a cart.
It was to be the first of four or five painful moves for the hefty horseman. The final statue weighs about 26 tons. Of course, a lot would have to happen before anyone would even consider moving the statue again. Here’s a quick recount:
Well, first they hid it. Anti-Spanish sentiment was too hot and a blue tarp was draped over the top for a while. Arch-conservative, Lucas Alamán convinced the president to spare the statue from the crucible. By 1822, the horseman reigned over a closed courtyard in the Royal and Pontifical University building. (That was later to become the University of Mexico.)
From there, it was moved in 1852 to the intersection of Paseo de la Reforma and the Avenida Bucarelli. Charles IV remained there until 1979. Fortunately those represent the long golden years of the avenue. In fact, at the other end of Bucarelli, at the Intersection with the Calle Barcelona, was another tremendous work by Manuel Tolsá. The fountain that flanked that grand intersection was moved in 1925 to the Plaza de Loreto where it can still be seen.
In 1979, at long last, and after countless troublesome street expansions, the City moved “El Caballito” to its present location. So when you’re complaining about the style and strange period of Sebastián’s brilliant modernist yellow replacement, remember that all of this history has gone into that particular statement, too.
The renamed Manuel Tolsá Plaza, out front of the National Museum of Art and before Tolsá’s masterpiece, the Palacio de Mineria, may finally do justice to the work the architect and sculptor tried to do, so many years ago.
Ultimately, it’s a monument to the artist far more than to its subject. And for that, it does bear some affection.