It’s still all bull in Spain


THROUGHOUT Spain, everyone has seen at least one example of the Black Bull usually found in the middle of nowhere. Some visitors and residents assume it is simply a symbol of the country and some have been heard to exclaim with a degree of authority, “That’s where the local bullring is!”

Do you know what they are and why they’re there?

Osborne is the name of one of the most important and long-lived family run wineries.

Founded in 1772, it makes them one of the 100 world’s oldest and active companies and the second oldest in Spain.

The history of the company dates back to the late 18th century, when an English merchant Thomas Osborne Mann, from Exeter in Devon, visited Cadiz to export his sherry.

In no time he’d established trade links with Sir James Duff and his nephew William Gordon, owners of several wineries in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

It was in this town that the young Thomas Osborne found a winery, that, after more than 240 years of operation not only remains, but has become a big Spanish business.

The Osborne sherry company erected large images of bulls dating to 1956, to advertise their Brandy de Jerez after consulting with Advertising Azor.

The Artistic Director and Head of Study was graphic designer Manolo Prieto, who came up with the idea to the bull silhouette, “The bull of roads”.

At first, the client didn’t like the design.

Prieto was not only a designer but a renowned draftsman and painter who specialised in creating book covers, posters and advertising campaigns.

It was probably unfair in that, he gained his fame from designing a bull since some of his great works won international awards.

The images were black advertising boards located near major roads throughout Spain with the brand “Veterano” in red on it.

The original image was smaller and slightly different in design.

The current larger image was created to comply with a law that prohibited advertising within 150 metres of a road.

In 1994 the EU passed a law that prohibited all roadside advertising of alcoholic beverages and the bulls were therefore to be removed.

By this time the signs were nationally renowned, so although some campaigners wished them completely removed to fully comply with the intent of the law, public response resulted in the signs being retained, but completely blacked out to remove all reference to the original advertisers.

The Court eventually allowed these signs to remain on the grounds that they have become a part of the landscape and have “aesthetic or cultural significance”, thus turning the bulls into public domain images.

There are now only two signs in Spain with the word “Osborne” still written on them. One is at the Jerez de la Frontera airport in the province of Cadiz and the other is in the nearby town of El Puerto de Santa María, where the Osborne headquarters is found.

The image of the bull is now displayed in stickers, key rings and the like.

Also, in sport events where a Spanish team or individual take part, the bull is embedded by supporters in the Flag of Spain in the manner of a coat of arms.

There are about 90 examples of the Osborne bull advertisements. A few of them are also present, in a slightly different design, in Mexico, where it retains its advertising function.

The Barcelona bull was vandalized by people who identified themselves as Catalan independentists, although later it was restored by a group of neighbours of Masquefa.

The only Bull in Mallorca is often vandalized by members of separatist or other movements.

For a nation where goading and killing bulls is known as a national fiesta, the original decision to kill off the Osborne bulls – which have decorated the Spanish landscape for almost 60 years – raised a storm of protest.

Even though the name had to be removed, everybody still knew it was the Veterano brandy bull. Without the inscription, it seemed bigger, blacker, stronger and nobler.

It is the perfect fighting bull, its horns held high, its head in a pose of inquisitive readiness. It turned into something of a myth, a symbol of Spain itself.

To some, it symbolises virility, to others fertility. Legend has it that barren couples made love in the shadow of its giant testicles after all else failed.

Osborne sponsored a big, glossy book called “An Enormous Black Bull”, in which leading artists gave their impressions of what the Osborne bull meant to them.

“The bull has not broken the panorama of the countryside. On the contrary, it forms part of it. It does not distract, it contemplates,” wrote journalist Alfonso Ussia, during the “Pardon the Osborne Bull’” campaign.

“It is at one with the countryside, in communion with the space it occupies,” wrote industrialist Jose Maria Cuevas.

“It is the protective shadow over the fields of Spain,” wrote another journalist.

A leading member of the brandy-producing family, Rafael Osborne Macpherson – with a name like that, it is perhaps surprising that he didn’t get into whisky – began looking for an advertising gimmick for Veterano in the mid-1950s.

Graphic artist Manolo Prieto, came up with the bull idea and the first one, which was made of wood, was erected on the Burgos highway, 33 miles north of Madrid in 1957.

Once there were 500, but recession and the ravages of time have cut the herd to 91.

Each metal bull weighs four tons, has a surface area of more than 150 square yards and stands 38 feet high. Scaffolding and the concrete base take the weight of the contraption to 50 tons.

The most outstanding sites were chosen all over Spain, with landowners being paid in cash or in cases of brandy.

Often, the bull is visible from many miles off and drivers use them as landmarks. Even some airline pilots joke about lining up their landings using the Osborne bull near Jerez airport and parents like to keep their children busy on long journeys, by having them count the number of bulls they pass.

Carmen Alborch, the Minister of Culture, was one of the first to stand up to her cabinet colleague, Transport Minister Jose Borrell, when it was first announced that the bulls would have to go. As the campaign for a pardon grew, the Prime Minister at the time, Felipe Gonzalez hinted that a way might be found to bend the law.

Bullfighting has always divided members of Spanish society and others worldwide. At the time of the proposed banning of the Osborne bulls, a cartoon in the daily Diario 16, summed up the row. It showed a bleeding “real” bull with the matador’s sword protruding from its shoulder blades, gazing longingly at the black bull hoarding on a hill. “Wish I was cardboard,” it said.