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Cirlot, Juan Eduardo

    Full Name: Cirlot, Juan Eduardo

    Other Names:

    • Juan Eduardo Cirlot

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 09 April 1916

    Date Died: 11 May 1973

    Place Born: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    Place Died: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

    Home Country/ies: Spain

    Subject Area(s): art history, dictionaries, Spanish (culture or style), and symbols

    Career(s): art historians, authors, composers (people in music), and poets


    Poet, composer and author of a major symbol dictionary and co-author of Ars Hispaniae. Cirlot was the son of Juan Cirlot and Maria Laporta. After graduating from the College of the Jesuits, Barcelona, he worked as a customs agent and at the Banco Hispanoamericano. His initial interest was in music, which he studied until called as a soldier to fight against Franco in the Second Spanish Republic, 1937. With their defeat he was again mobilized by the Franco regime in 1940. Cirlot lived in Zaragoza, Spain, among culturati drawn to Surrealism, especially with the artist Alfonso Buñuel (Luis Buñuel’s brother). He and Alfonso tranlated the Surrealist poetry of Paul Éluard (1895-1952), André Breton (1896-1966), and Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) into Spanish. Through Surrealism, Cirlot developed beliefs in mysticism. During the years of World War II in Europe, he returned to the Banco Hispanoamericano and Barcelona in 1943, meeting the poet Benítez de Castro (1892-?). After the war, he published the first of many volumes of poetry, Canto de la Vida muerta, in 1946. He married Gloria Valenzuela in 1947. Cirlot joined the editorial staff of Argos publishers, composing music and collaborating with the Catalan artists group, Dau al Set. His first publicly performed composition, “Preludio in the Ateneo Barcelonés,” was played in 1948. The following year be began writing for the journal founded by Dau al Set, of the same name. Through the magazine, he met André Breton in Paris. Cirlot moved to Gustavo Gili publishers. In 1949 he met the ethnologist and musicologist Marius Schneider (1903-1982) who cultivated in Cirlot a fascination with symbology. Compatriot art historian José Gudiol assisted him in Gothic art studies. Cirlot’s first book on symbolism, El Ojo en la Mitología: su simbolismo, appeared in 1954. The same year he became a founding member of the Academia del Faro de San Cristóbal. Together with the American art historian George Kubler he co-authored a volume in the art encylopeida Ars Hispaniae in 1957. In 1958, he published a dictionary of symbols, Diccionario de símbolos tradicionales, translated into English in 1962 as A Dictionary of Symbols. This edition featured a prologue by Herbert Read. In 1963, a dispute with Dau al Set member Antoni Tàpies severed his connection with the group. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1971, he worked to see a volume on Picsso published before his death. He died immediately after surgery at his home in Barcelona in 1973. As an art historian, Cirlot is best known for his symbol dictionary which matched images to a discussion of their various iconographic implications. The book went through numerous subsequent edtions.

    Selected Bibliography

    Canto de la Vida muerta. Barcelona: Soc. Anónima Horta de Impresiones y Ediciones, 1946; El ojo en la mitología; su simbolismo. Masnou: Laboratorios del Norte de España, 1954; and Kubler, George. Arquitectura de los siglos XVII-XVIII. Ars Hispaniae 14. Madrid, 1957;Diccionario de símbolos tradicionales. Barcelona: L. Miracle, 1958, English, A Dictionary of Symbols. London: Routledge & Paul, 1962; Introducción a la arquitectura de Gaudí. Barcelona: Editorial RM, 1966; Nacimiento de un genio. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1972, English, Picasso, Birth of a Genius. New York: Praeger, 1972.


    The Oxford Companion to Spanish Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978; [obituary:] Camón Aznar, José. “Juan Eduardo Cirlot.” Goya 115 (July 1973): 64.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Cirlot, Juan Eduardo." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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