José Emilio Burucúa

History as a Symptom

Tuesday, 19, Wednesday, 20, and Thursday, 21 October 2021 - Check programme
Organised by
Museo Reina Sofía
Education programme developed with the sponsorship of the Banco Santander Foundation

The Museo Reina Sofía’s Juan Antonio Ramírez Chair invites art historian José Emilio Burucúa (Buenos Aires, 1946) to conduct a seminar devoted to the cultural history of hope and a master lecture on man-nature relationships by means of artistic representations of the elephant. The pre-eminent historian returns to the Museo after the postponement of the previous edition, which could only be carried out virtually due to the pandemic, resuming last year’s pending seminar and offering a new in-person lecture.      

Burucúa is the author of an art history conceived as cultural history, in which encyclopaedic erudition combines with major transversal lines that endure over time, conjugating the influences of Walter Benjamin’s constellations with surviving images of Aby Warburg to become one of the most original voices of our time. 

The Juan Antonio Ramírez Chair looks to reflect on the limits and potential of art history, a discipline being constantly reinvented methodologically, under continual transformation, anti-essentialist, and characterised by its permeability with other subjects. The core idea of the programme, across its ten-plus years of existence, is to disseminate and render an account of different intellectual positions. The Chair’s name pays homage to art historian Juan Antonio Ramírez (1948–2009), one of the founders of the MA in Contemporary Art History and Visual Culture (organised by the Autonomous University of Madrid, Complutense University of Madrid and Museo Reina Sofía), and a firm advocate of the singular and essential nature of art history in our contemporary society.

José Emilio Burucúa holds a degree in Art History and History of Science from the University of Buenos Aires, where he was also head lecturer in Modern History. He has been a visiting lecturer at prestigious centres such as École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, among others. His works explore diverse themes such as art history in Historia, arte, cultura. De Aby Warburg a Carlo Ginzburg (Fondo de Económica, 2003), the history of laughter in Renaissance Europe in Corderos y elefantes. Nuevos aportes acerca del problema de la modernidad clásica (Miño y Dávila, 2001), chronicles of his travels in Diario de Nantes (Adriana Hidalgo Editora, 2019), and the history of perspective and the historical relationship between images and ideas. His latest work, Historia natural y mítica de los elefantes (Ampersand, 2019), written in a collaboration with Nicolás Kwiatkowski, explores the representation of the elephant in different spheres.

Education programme developed with the sponsorship of the Santander Fundación


Actividad pasada Tuesday, 19, Wednesday, 20, and Thursday, 21 October 2021 - 11am
Notes for an Aesthetic History of Hope in the West
Seminar by José Emilio Burucúa

Three twentieth-century masters supply the tools to explore the possibilities of writing an aesthetic history of certain general ideas: Italo Calvino, Hannah Arendt and Ernst Bloch. Through these three figures, Burucúa plunges into the search for a discourse which is able to shed light on the way in which artistic manifestations — visual, sound, linguistic — transmit, over time, the cornerstones determining diverse societies. With a view to addressing their symbolic-emotional values, he takes as a frame of reference Pathosformeln (the pathos formula), a term coined by Aby Warburg.

The seminar sets out from the idea of hope, as a field of experience, analysed via visual forms that artistic imagination associates with it. Through a study methodology based on classifying the signs put forward by Charles Pierce (icons, signs, symbols), and focusing on detecting metaphors and diagrams, Burucúa parses a repertoire that starts from ancient Mediterranean thought, arriving at the work of artists like Michelangelo, and his non finito sculptures, and concludes with the expectations convened by Malevich’s Suprematism and American abstract painting from the 1950s and 1960s.

Sabatini Building, Auditorium

20 people


Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior registration by filling out the following form, until 13 October. Those who register will receive a subject list and bibliography. 

Actividad pasada Thursday, 21 October 2021 – 6pm
The Transformation of Elephant Iconography in the West. Between Symbolism and Ecologism
Master lecture by José Emilio Burucúa

—Presentation and talk by Jesús Moreno Sanz, professor of Philosophy at UNED (Spain’s National University of Distance Education), researcher, editor and a specialist in the relationships between philosophy, science, poetry and mysticism.

Until the 18th century, European knowledge of the elephant originated from Asian traditions. Ancient notions of the religiousness of this animal, its magnanimity and unique intelligence — with its fullest synthesis transmitted during the Renaissance via Pliny the Elder’s Natural History — were at once powerful and unwavering. Subsequently, the explorations of Central and Southern Africa and south of the Sahara that led to the growing presence of Europeans and later Western nations’ colonisation and imperialism in this region of the world made new contact with pachyderms possible. The landscape darkened, however, with persecution and killing at the hands of hunters throughout Africa and the elephant lost its aura of benevolence and intelligence, acquiring something different forged from either a destructive ferocity or clumsiness verging on foolishness, but under the protection of the imagination that Africans expressed in their folklore. In the field of the visual arts, the image of the elephant piqued the interest of the most radical avant-garde movements in the 20th century, such as Dadaism, Surrealism and Pop Art, until it became a central theme in the relationship between humans and nature in the present day.          

Sabatini Building, Auditorium

144 people


Free, until full capacity is reached. Doors open 30 minutes before the activity.