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Hermenegildo Lanz
1893–1949

Lisbon. Madrid. The first steps.

Hermenegildo Lanz was not a puppeteer, but his contributions to puppetry are major in terms of Spanish history. At an early age he was trained in Lisbon under the painter Enrique Casanova. There he was also a scene designer in the workshop of Teatro Dona Maria II. In 1912 he moved to Madrid, where he studied fine arts. During his studies he exhibited his etchings at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts and won many awards. He began to receive recognition for an engraving technique that he continued perfecting throughout the following years. 

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Hermenegildo Lanz's engraving entitled “Outside Loeches”

Granada. Dreamland. Friends and projects.

Lanz came to teach in Granada in 1917 as a professor of drawing at the Normal School. He quickly became part of the intellectual circles of that time, enjoying the company of such influential figures as Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca, Manuel Ángeles Ortiz and Melchor Fernández Almagro. The city of Alhambra experienced great cultural effervescence in those years following the end of World War I, at the zenith of the avant-garde movement. The meetings at Riconcillo – located in the old cafe Almeda on the Plaza del Campillo – were the cradle of fundamental initiatives for Spanish culture.

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Detail of Almeda Coffe Shop in Granada, where the meetings of Rinconcillo where held. Photo by: Hermenegildo Lanz, 1920

A teacher

Lanz taught drawing for 32 years. Over and above his teaching activity, he showed great concern for the state of education in Spain. He gave numerous lectures on teaching, designed the furniture for the Normal School and was one of the founders of the School of Labour. He wanted workers to be able to access education without financial barriers. His work didn't leave a physical trace but it was very important for the Spanish society as whole.

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Furniture designs for the Normal School

The beginning of adventures in puppetry

Their love of puppets led Manuel de Falla, Federico García Lorca and Hermenegildo Lanz to combine their talents. On 6th of January 1923 they staged a children’s puppet show “Títeres de Cachiporra”. Lanz designed puppets and scenography, Lorca wrote some of the texts, and Falla arranged and performed music with three other musicians. The performance had a strong impact on puppetry in Spain and Latin America. This was also the first time in Europe that paper theatre (they called it “Teatro planista”) was used by artists and understood as performing art. It was also the scenic laboratory for “El retablo de Maese Pedro”, a puppet opera that premiered a few months later. 

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“Cachiporra” – seven glove puppets that left their mark on the Spanish and Latin American puppet theatre. Photo by: Enrique Lanz Durán

“El retablo de Maese Pedro”, Spanish opera in the heart of avant-garde

In 1918 Princesse Edmond de Polignac (an important musical patron) commissioned Falla to write a piece that could be performed at her salon in Paris. Following Granada’s success, she requested that Lanz, an “excellent artist [...] should make the puppets”. Falla decided on “El retablo de Maese Pedro” based on an episode from Cervantes' Don Quixote that actually depicts a puppet play. Lanz carved eight wooden heads for glove puppets, including Don Quixote, master Peter and Trujamán. The pupept opera was a resounding success and today it is considered as the main Spanish contribution to the European avant-garde in terms of puppetry. Since its premiere it has been performed worldwide. 

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The premiere was attended by the poets, musicians and painters who comprised the exclusive court of the Princesse de Polignac.
In the photo, a glimpse of the 1923 Paris premiere. 

The Spanish “El Retablo” tour 

“El retablo de Maese Pedro” was a great success. In Spanish premiere was at the Teatro San Fernando, Seville. In contrast to Paris, Lanz made all the puppets and built the sets. The show toured concert halls and theatres in Valencia, Granada, Reus, Barcelona, and Zaragoza. For that reason, they increased the scale of the puppet theatre and puppets considerably, and changed the mechanics of handling them. The technical part of Lanz's work is of great importance. From his drawings and notes (because the original items were lost) it is clearly evident how he solved scenographic and technical issues for the movement of life-size puppets.

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For a long time it was assumed that the Spanish “El Retablo” puppets weren't preserved. Approximately eighteen figures reappeared but their exact location is not known. On the photograph the sketch for Melisendra, the daughter of Charlemagne, 1925.

“Sacramental plays”, rescuing the forgotten culture 

“The Grand World Theatre”, a “sacramental play” by Calderón de la Barca, was produced by Ateneo de Granada, and it was performed in 1927 for the first time in Spain after it was banned in 1765. The revival of the “sacramental plays” in the 1920s and 1930s was another manifestation of the Spanish neoclassical impulse. Lanz directed the festival, created the scenery, costumes, lighting and the theatre that was built in the middle of the Alhambra. He was the authentic artistic director of the show. The was a big success with an immediate resonance throughout the country. The theatrical critics recognized Lanz as a genuine modern day scenographer for Spain.

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Scene for The Grand World Theatre, Granada, 1927. Photo by: ManuelTorres Molina

The Spanish civil war: the horror  silence and decline

The civil war marked the Spanish history. The life and work of Hermenegildo Lanz suffered irreversibly. His contribution to puppetry and his creativity were badly affected by the Franco regime after its end. Some of his friends were killed (Lorca), others exiled (Falla). He was arrested, suspended without pay and forced to go to Logroño in northern Spain. Without a job he faced great financial hardship. However, encouraged by Falla, in 1938 he carved eleven heads for glove puppets. With these he intended to tour the villages with a donkey and a cart to make a living.

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Glove puppet heads, carved and painted by Hermenegildo Lanz, 1938. Photo by: Ricardo Lanz

Totolín’s Thoughts on Life, a marionette clown 

In 1942 Lanz made friends with an Italian puppeteer from the company which toured through Spain. Under his influence he made a string puppet called Totolín, representing a clown. The puppet never performed in a show, but it did have a public life in the magazine “La estafeta literaria” (1944). For more than a year a section called “Totolín’s Thoughts on Life” was published every two weeks, where the circus clown questioned the world. As stated through letters to/by Covaleda “Lanz gave Totolín a voice [...] and began to exhibit his melancholy musings on envy and sloth, education, and social harmony... nor did he avoid evoking the past.”

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Lanz Durán family with Totolín, Hermenegildo sitting in the centre, 1942

Lanz, a versatile and socially engaged artist

Throughout his life Lanz played multiple roles. He was a painter, sculptor, engraver, furniture and graphic designer, photographer and toy maker, he even designed his own house. He was actively involved in the reconstruction of the Alcazaba of Málaga, the Muslim palatial fortification from the 11th century. He was the director of the “Ateneo de Granada” for several years, where he promoted important initiatives like “La Barraca del Arte” to bring puppets and theatre to the humble people of the villages. 

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Hermenegildo Lanz, five self-portraits