Spain’s mighty iconic black bull whose silhouette towers over many a Spanish hillside

Spain’s mighty iconic black bull, designed by the little-known Manolo Prieto, who was commissioned by the Osborne sherry company, to advertise their brandy.

There are currently more than 90 bulls spread across the Spanish countryside, each one made of steel, weighing four tons and standing as tall as a four-storey building. But the figure, which has been used by Spanish football fans to adorn their national flags and by Rafael Nadal.

Manolo Prieto Spain’s iconic bull

Spain’s mighty iconic black bull by Manolo Prieto

The designer Manolo Prieto, much of his life’s work is on show at National Museum of Decorative Art

Not everybody knows Manolo Prieto, but anybody who has driven through the Spanish countryside will be very familiar with his most famous design: Spain’s mighty iconic black bull, whose silhouette can be seen standing proudly against the skyline of many of Spain’s major highways.

Born in sherry country in Puerto de Santa María in 1912, Prieto was a pioneer of graphic design in Spain. Not only was he contracted by the Osborne sherry company in 1956 to come up with an image to advertise the company’s  brandy, but he also applied his skills in campaigns for clients including state railway company Renfe, Spanish national airline Iberia and Nestlé.

Spain’s mighty iconic black bull, however, remains his most famous creation and the design was chosen for the Promotion of Decorative Arts (FAD) in 2003 as the icon of Spain’s 20th century. In 1997, the country’s Supreme Court even raised the roadside bulls, which are roughly 14 meters in height, to “national symbol” status, excluding them from a law that prohibits billboards outside city limits.

But besides advertising, Prieto designed 618 book covers, a sample of which is now on show at the National Museum of Decorative Art at number 12, Montalbán street in Madrid, in an exhibition that runs until October 22, curated by Juan Aguilar y Emilio Gil. Designed for a series called Novelas y Cuentos over a period of 17 years from 1940–1957, the covers are complemented by sketches, trial prints and personal objects.